U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it will be recognizing the contributions of veterans, active military and military spouses during 40 naturalization ceremonies taking place across the country between now and Nov. 14, 2014, for more than 3,000 new citizens. Over the last 12 years, USCIS has naturalized over 102,000 service members – many of them on an expedited basis.

Current members of U.S. armed forces and recently discharged members are eligible for expedited processing of U.S. naturalization applications pursuant to special provisions contained in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Specifically, expedited processing is generally available for members of the following branches of U.S. armed forces: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, certain sections of the National Guard and the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve. Military spouses of active service members who are or will be deployed may also be eligible for expedited naturalization. Under certain circumstances some spouses may be eligible to gain U.S. naturalization abroad.

To qualify, U.S. armed forces applicants must demonstrate:

  • Good moral character
  • Knowledge of the English language
  • Knowledge of U.S. government and history (civics), and
  • Attachment to the United States by taking an Oath of Allegiance to the U.S. Constitution

In general, applicants for U.S. citizenship must meet the physical presence and substantial presence criteria of the INA; however, members of U.S. armed forces are exempt from these requirements. Another distinction from the regular naturalization process is that active military may complete the entire process abroad, from application through to naturalization ceremony. Please note that anyone who gains U.S. citizenship through this process can have their citizenship revoked if they fail to complete five years of honorable service.

During peacetime, active military and those recently discharged from service may qualify for naturalization if they: (i) have at least one year of honorable service; (ii) hold permanent residence d (aka green card); and (iii) filed their application while active military or within six months of being discharged. During times of hostility, members of the military who have served honorably on or after Sept. 11, 2001, are eligible to file for U.S. citizenship immediately.

Finally, a new avenue for naturalization was made available in 2009 for noncitizen enlistees who graduate from basic training with the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. This initiative, called the Naturalization at Basic Training Initiative, allows USCIS to complete the entire naturalization process, from making an application through completing the Oath of Allegiance, on a military base.

Qualified military personnel and veterans who are interested in applying for U.S. naturalization should contact their designated point-of-contact in the personnel division of the Judge Advocate General’s Office. This office will assist with the preparation and filing of applications.

Greenberg Traurig would like to take this opportunity to thank all veterans and active members of the military for their service, including those of you who are clients and those of you who work in the firm’s immigration practice.