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Can I become a naturalized citizen for serving in the military?

Green card holders can serve in the United States military. There is a common misconception that serving in the military automatically grants green card holders – i.e., permanent residents – U.S. citizenship. We debunked this myth in a previous post.

However, serving our country through the military can give permanent residents a simplified path to naturalization. It can also help their family members become citizens. The prerequisites to become a citizen depend on the timeframe of your service: whether it was during war or peacetime.

Service during peacetime

If you served during peacetime, you must:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have served for at least one year in total
  • Have been honorably discharged, if a veteran
  • Be proficient in English
  • Possess an understanding of American government and history
  • Have demonstrated upstanding moral character over the previous five years

Service during periods of hostility

Permanent residents who serve during wartime have different eligibility requirements for citizenship. For our most recent history, any military service from September 11, 2001 to the present is considered a period of hostility. Requirements for citizenship in this case are similar to those above, with a couple notable distinctions:

  • There is no minimum amount of time that you must have served.
  • There is no age requirement for applying.
  • You do not have to be a permanent resident, if you meet certain other conditions.

It’s worth noting that military members who file for citizenship during their service or within six months after their service are not subject to the same residency requirements as other green card holders applying for citizenship.

In addition, if the service member died in service, they may still receive citizenship posthumously.

Choosing to serve in the U.S. military can create opportunities for citizenship. However, it’s important to understand that citizenship is not granted automatically as a result of military service. You still need to apply. An experienced immigration attorney can help you ensure that your application checks all the right boxes – and help to increase your chances of success.

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