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How armed forces personnel can secure citizenship

As a nation, we strive to do everything in our power to recognize the service and sacrifice of those brave men and women who serve or have served in our armed forces. Indeed, we express our gratitude to our armed forces personnel through everything from enhanced employment and educational opportunities to dedicated health care benefits and even expedited immigration services.

Regarding this last point, Sections 328 and 329 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, otherwise known as the INA, provide both active duty military personnel and veterans with a timely and efficient path to naturalization through their service in the U.S. Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard or certain elements of the National Guard.

Naturalization and Peacetime

Section 328 of the INA allows those individuals who have served honorably in the U.S. military at any time to apply for naturalization, a process referred to in the military as "peacetime naturalization."  

It's important to understand that in order to qualify under Section 328, applicants must satisfy the following exacting criteria:

  • They must be at least 18 years old.
  • They must have served honorably in one of the aforementioned branches for a minimum of one year and, if no long serving, separated honorably.
  • They must be a permanent resident at the time of submitting the application.
  • They must be literate and able to speak English.
  • They must have some grasp of U.S. civics and history.
  • They must have lived in the U.S. continuously for at least five years and been physically present here for a minimum of 30 months in the five years immediately preceding the submission of the application; However, if they submitted the application while still serving or within six months of their separation from the military, these requirements concerning residence and physical presence do not apply.
  • They must have demonstrated good moral character, have "an attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution" and shown themselves "well disposed to the good order and happiness of the U.S." during all relevant periods.

As you can see from the foregoing, applying for naturalization through this route, while promising, is by no means an easy feat. Indeed, military personnel in these scenarios should strongly consider consulting with an experienced legal professional who can help guide them through the process.

We'll continue this discussion in our next post, examining the process of applying for naturalization through service in periods of hostilities.

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