This information is for background purposes only. Military naturalization is now stalled because of new policies. See: http://www.npr.org/2017/10/22/559336282/army-tightens-rules-for-immigrants-joining-as-a-path-to-citizenship
This program is still in flux, and is in the courts: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/u-s-judge-bars-pentagon-from-blocking-citizenship-applications-by-immigrant-recruits/2017/10/26/475630e2-ba74-11e7-a908-a3470754bbb9_story.html?utm_term=.5301e5a2c56b
Certain immigration benefits may be available to members of the U.S. armed forces and/or their immediate relatives. Unauthorized aliens may consider joining the military as a way to procuring status, but it is not a simple path.
Undocumented immigrants are generally barred from serving in the military, though occasionally (especially in times of military need) an undocumented person might be allowed to join the armed forces in spite of this rule.
What is selective service? Should I sign up if I am undocumented?
The Selective Service means the military draft. Generally, all male residents between the ages of 18 and 26 must sign up.
The U.S. government considers you a “resident” even though you are undocumented, and even though undocumented immigrants cannot join the U.S. military. Therefore, according to the Selective Service, you should register within 30 days of your 18th birthday. Late registrations are accepted, but you can not register after age 26.
If you do not register, it could delay a future citizenship application until you are at least 31. Details about how to register are at the Selective Service website. There is a story here about the recent effort to encourage undocumented men to sign up.
There is no requirement to register for the draft as part of the DACA application, but DACA recipients should register so as not to jeopardize any future relief.
If I join the military, will I get citizenship?
Green card holders that serve in the military may be eligible for accelerated naturalization, the process through which a lawful permanent resident gains citizenship. Additionally, foreign nationals who “honorably served” in the U.S. armed forces during wartime may be eligible for naturalization even if not lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States.
The Pentagon recently re-introduced the MAVNI program, which is designed to recruit immigrants with special skills, such as languages or psychology, to serve in the Army. This is a small program – they are only looking to recruit 1,500 people with specific capabilities – but for those who are accepted, it means a fast track to naturalization. Individuals accepted can expect to earn their citizenship at the end of basic training, in as little as ten weeks. You don’t need to be a green card holder to apply, but you do need to hold some kind of legal status.
Undocumented individuals who come from countries that mandate military service may think the choice to enlist in the U.S. military is an easy one: if they need to serve somewhere, why not here, and become eligible for citizenship in the process? Those considering this option should know that some undocumented veterans have found that this path to citizenship is subject to significant blocks. Anyone pursuing this option should consider the risks of having their application stalled or denied.
- USCIS guide to naturalization for military members
- Article: Soldier Finds Minefield on Road to Citizenship
- Article: Immigration Lawyer Who Started MAVNI Wins MacArthur Genius Grant
I am a member of the armed forces. Can I obtain any benefits for my family members?
Parole in Place (PIP) may be a helpful option for undocumented members of military families, who otherwise could gain status as the immediate family member of a U.S. citizen. It is a process by which USCIS assists these family members to become eligible to adjust status without having to depart from the U.S., by granting them “parolee” status and thus removing issues of entry without inspection and unlawful presence.
PIP does not require that the U.S. military member serve on active, overseas, or combat duty. The family member must demonstrate a military connection to the need for PIP. PIP is a discretionary measure, and local USCIS districts have the authority of how and when to grant it. Those interested in pursuing PIP will need to check with their local USCIS office for their preferred process.