Being in the US military

(Part 1 of 2)

Signing up  to be a soldier for a country not initially your own and be willing and able to defend  and die for its ideals, is probably the most courageous and noble act a person can do.  After all, it is undeniable that going to war carries with it the risk of losing one’s life. The United States, the leader of the free world, fully recognizes the importance of that supreme sacrifice.  The laws granting citizenship to foreigners or non-U.S. citizens who fight with U.S. military forces have evolved to address the realities of global conflicts  since World War I, giving rise to distinct ways of acquiring U. S. citizenship.  There are unique circumstances when a person can enlist even without a green card and serve honorably during specific periods of conflicts, such is the case of  World War II Filipino-American veterans who fought side by side with the Americans. Said WWII veterans were not required to be lawful permanent residents in the U.S. but were automatically vested with U.S. citizenship after submission of proof of service.  These sets of rules come under the wartime statutes and still  persists, especially  post 09/11/2001.

In recent years, emphasis has been placed on peacetime naturalization law, when one enlists with the U.S. military while residing in the U.S. Joining the military does not necessarily require an applicant to be a U.S. citizen, only that one is in a valid permanent resident status (LPR).  A few other groups that are allowed to enlist are: (a) citizens of countries with which the U.S. has a treaty – the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Palau and Micronesia; (b) some foreigners legally in the U.S. on a non-immigrant visa if it is determined that enlistment is “vital to national interest”.  At any given time, the U.S. strategically opens its doors to immigrants from all over the world who can potentially “beef up” its military forces.  The benefits of being part of the U.S. military, vis-à-vis, being an immigrant, are probably  widely unknown.  Immigration benefits and advantages are numerous; not just for the military member but also for spouses, dependent children and to a certain extent, their parents.

A green card holder (U.S. lawful permanent resident or “LPR”) who becomes a member of the U.S. armed forces, upon compliance with military service requirements, can expeditiously apply for U.S. citizenship without being required to comply with 3 or 5 year residency in the United States, among others.  Further, in the event that the soldier is injured or develops a disabling condition  caused or aggravated by military service and eventually dies, said soldier can be granted U.S. citizenship, posthumously.  Obviously, the soldier’s death would benefit people who are his or her kindred , i.e.,  spouse, children or parents.  The U.S. Department of Homeland Security prioritizes resources to take care of dependents and immediate relatives of American soldiers, alive or not. It is their unconditional and fearless service in the U.S. military that matters.  For the spouse and children of those who have lost their lives because of military service, they can self-petition, as immediate relatives of the U.S. citizen-soldier, whose citizenship is recognized, posthumously.  Spouses (who are LPR) of U.S. citizen soldiers who are still in service, are privileged to avail of an expeditious application for U.S. naturalization, upon compliance with other requirements.  For non-military under normal conditions, applicants for naturalization are required to be physically present in the United States for a certain period of time before they can qualify and   be granted citizenship. For soldiers and their spouses, time spent in other countries where deployed will be counted in their favor. Other benefits for qualified relatives of military personnel will be discussed in the next article.

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Maria Rita Reyes-Stuby is a licensed attorney in Michigan.  She is a graduate of the University of the Philippines College of Law. She specializes in immigration and practices in Las Vegas, Michigan, California and other states.  Bernadette Bretana, a graduate of the Ateneo Law School and Ms. Stuby are licensed attorneys in the Philippines. Please call @702-403-4704 or email her at [email protected] or go to for any questions on this article.

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