As a country founded by immigrants hundreds of years ago, many individuals still flock to the United States today, seeking political freedom and the opportunity to achieve their goals. Our country remains a land of opportunities and, because many foreigners from all over the world come to live here, cultural diversity is one of America’s strengths.
That same strength applies to the U.S military today. Since the Revolutionary War, legal permanent residents have been eligible to enlist in the military. Roughly 35,000 non-citizens are serving on active duty and about 8,000 join each year.
Non-citizen servicemembers offer several benefits to the military. They are more diverse linguistically and culturally than citizen recruits, which is particularly valuable as the U.S. faces the challenges of the Global War on Terrorism.
Military service provides many opportunities for non-citizen recruits, particularly in the path to citizenship.
"Since 9/11 there has been a waiver for naturalization fees for military members serving during periods of hostilities," said Tina Brant, 509th Force Support Squadron naturalization representative. "That saves Airmen at least several hundreds of dollars. The time to process the applications is also much faster for troops than civilians because the Department of Defense and USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) have a memorandum of agreement to expedite military applications. And if they don’t receive their citizenship during their first enlistment, they will not be allowed to re-enlist."
Until they obtain their U.S. citizenship, non-citizen recruits have restrictions on their re-enlistment eligibility, bonuses, promotion, retraining, duty assignments and security clearances.
"Airmen can begin the application process as soon as they get to tech school because the time in service was waived by the president, since we have been in a period of hostility," Brant said.
Military members can get help with necessary forms and information from naturalization representatives at military personnel sections on their bases. Once Airmen have completed the required forms (N-400 Application for Naturalization, N-426 Request for Certification of Military, G-325B USCIS Document Checklist) their POC will submit them to the USCIS Nebraska Service Center.
"After the application has been submitted, Airmen might be asked to go get their fingerprints taken at the nearest field office," Brant said. "After that, they will be scheduled for a citizenship interview where they will perform a test to verify they have common knowledge of the English language and (U.S.) history.
"The application may take six to eight months to process. Once the Airmen receive their citizenship approval, they need to provide the original Certification of Naturalization ... for update in the Military Personnel Data System as a final step to the process."
Demographic trends and new incentives, including new language programs and expedited citizenship, make it likely that the number of non-citizens within the military’s ranks will grow. Non-citizen recruits provide the Armed Forces with a more richly diverse force, not only racially and ethnically, but also in terms of language and culture.