Every year, thousands of foreign-born service members and their family members become U.S. naturalized citizens. Learn more about steps to become a U.S. citizen and how you can use your military service to speed up the process and save money on processing fees.
The advantages of applying for citizenship through military service
There are three main advantages for foreign-born service members who apply for U.S. citizenship:
- Shorter residency requirements – Usually, applicants must reside within the United States as a lawful permanent resident for five continuous years, or three years if they’re married to a U.S. citizen, before they can apply to become a U.S. citizen. At most, eligible foreign-born service members only need one year of honorable service before they can file their Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.
- No state-of-residence requirement – Civilian applicants must live in the state or service district where they file their Form N-400 for a minimum of three months. Eligible foreign-born service members do not need to meet this requirement
- Waived application fees – Between the naturalization application and fingerprinting fees, civilian applicants pay almost $800 to become a U.S. citizen. Foreign-born service members are not required to pay the application fee, but spouses must pay the fee.
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6 steps to U.S. naturalization and citizenship through military service
As of 2019, recent Department of Defense policy changes to how foreign-born service members may apply for U.S. citizenship while serving may impact the time it takes for you to apply for citizenship. These changes are described in detail below.
Here is a step-by-step guide for how the naturalization process typically works for foreign-born service members. Many military installations have a designated U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services liaison to help you with the Form N-400 application process. Make sure you ask your commanding officer and local installation for the latest information on naturalization policies for active-duty service members.
- First, make sure you’re eligible for citizenship. Use the Naturalization Eligibility Worksheet, Form M-480.
- Have your chain of command complete and certify Form N-426, Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service, Form N-426 after you have completed your portion of the form. Your chain of command, who must be an 0-6 or above, may certify this form, making a characterization of service determination after you honorably serve at least 180 days of active duty during periods of hostility – which we have been in since Sept. 11, 2001 – or one full year during peacetime. This time includes basic training.
- Complete the Form N-400 is a part of the process which includes the Form N-426 completion and certification from the previous step. The Form N-400 Instructions provide information to complete the form as well as documents you may need to provide to USCIS to complete the naturalization process. It saves you time by providing those documents at the beginning of the process, so gather those materials before completing and filing your application. As part of the application process, USCIS will conduct security checks which include obtaining your biometrics.
- Provide your biometrics. If you reside stateside, you will receive a notice to go to an Application Support Center to provide biometrics to confirm your identity, such as fingerprints. Active-duty service members can provide their biometrics before they file, and they do not need an appointment to go to an ASC. If you are overseas, you must provide passport photos and FD-258 cards at the time of filing the Form N-400.
- Interview in person with an assigned USCIS officer at a designated location. The officer will review your application materials with you as well as test your knowledge of both spoken and written English and U.S. civics and history. Depending on how your interview goes, the USCIS officer may recommend your naturalization application be approved, denied, put on hold or continued for further review. If USCIS denies your Form N-400 application, you will receive a written notice outlining the reasons for the denial and how you can appeal that decision by filing a Form N-336, Request for a Hearing in Naturalization Proceedings.
- If USCIS approves your Form N-400, you will attend an oath naturalization ceremony to take the Oath of Allegiance and officially become a U.S. citizen. This could occur on the same day as your interview or be scheduled for a future date.
Citizenship for family members, survivors and other special immigration options
Military Help Line
Support is available to service members and their families who have questions about applying for citizenship:
- Call the USCIS toll-free Military Help Line: 877-247-4645, TTY (800) 877-8339, or see the Military Help Line webpage. USCIS representatives are available to answer calls Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Central), excluding federal holidays. Members of the U.S. armed forces and their families stationed in the U.S. or overseas may access the help line using the toll-free number through their base telephone operator or using Defense Switched Network (DSN).
- For service members, designated spouses, or children stationed in Asia- Pacific who have pending applications with USCIS, a specific e-mail has been provided for inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Contact Military OneSource for help with immigration, citizenship and the naturalization process. Overseas? See OCONUS calling options.
Important US naturalization information and resources for service members
- Required USCIS forms – Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, and the Form N-426, Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service
- An overview of the naturalization process – USCIS Naturalization Interview and Test Video, with captions available in both English and Spanish
- Test and interview preparation materials – USCIS’s Study Materials for the Civics Test digital library
- Eligibility requirements for service members – USCIS Eligibility Requirements for Naturalization Through Military Service webpage
- Eligibility requirements for spouses and family members – USCIS Citizenship for Family Members of Service Members webpage
- Overseas Services for Citizenship and Immigration – Military OneSource Citizenship and Immigration webpage
- Contact information for USCIS –