Naturalized U.S. Citizenship for Military Spouses & Children

Military spouses and children who have U.S. lawful permanent residence (green cards) have some special rights under U.S. immigration laws when it comes to apply for U.S. citizenship (naturalization).

By , J.D.

Military spouses and children who have U.S. lawful permanent residence (green cards) have some special rights under U.S. immigration laws when it comes to applying for U.S. citizenship (naturalization).

For example, if you are married to a serviceperson in the U.S. Armed Forces, you might:

  • be able to count time spent abroad with your military spouse toward your U.S. residency requirements
  • be able to receive expedited naturalization processing before you leave the U.S. to join your spouse, or
  • if you have become a widow/widower, qualify for immediate U.S. citizenship if the military spouse was killed in action.

Let's look at the details below, and how to apply for citizenship in this context.

What Qualifies as U.S. Military Service for Naturalization Purposes?

As a preliminary matter, to be considered as performing military service for the United States, your spouse or parent must have been on active or reserve duty in the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, or Coast Guard; or in a National Guard unit while the unit was federally recognized as a reserve component of the U.S. Armed Forces. (See 8 C.F.R § 328.1.)

Counting Time Posted Overseas Toward U.S. Naturalization Residency Requirements

Spouses living abroad will for the most part need to meet the same requirements as all green card holders applying for U.S. citizenship. However, there's an exception. While regular applicants must show that they've not only had U.S. permanent residence for a certain number of years (in most cases, five), but have spent at least half of those years physically present within the United States, military spouses can potentially avoid this. After all, it's a difficult requirement to meet if one is married to a U.S. citizen who is serving in the military and stationed abroad.

If you, by official military order, have accompanied your spouse on this overseas posting and are living with your spouse, a special exception allows you to count your time abroad as if you were in the United States. (I.N.A. § 319(e), 8 U.S.C. § 1430(e); and I.N.A. § 284(b), 8 U.S.C. § 1354(b)).

You can take additional advantage of an exception allowing spouses of U.S. citizens to apply for citizenship after only three years of permanent residence if you've been living together that whole time.

If you plan to make use of this exception, you'll need to obtain a signed and completed Form DD-1278, "Certificate of Overseas Assignment to Support Application to File Petition for Naturalization" from the appropriate military official. This form certifies that you have "concurrent travel orders" and are authorized to join your military spouse abroad.

To apply for citizenship, you'll need to file USCIS Form N-400, with some accompanying documents and a fee. The instructions with the form will give you the latest information on where to mail it and what fee you'll owe.

Eventually, you will need to attend a naturalization application interview and a swearing-in ceremony, which you might be required to do in the United States. You will also be asked to declare in good faith your intention to live abroad with your U.S. citizen spouse and to return to the U.S. immediately when your spouse's service abroad ends.

Expedited Naturalization Processing for Spouses of U.S. Military Members

What if you are currently in the United States, but your U.S. citizen military spouse will be moving abroad according to military orders? If you have a naturalization application in the pipeline, you can ask USCIS to grant expedited processing, with the idea of having your case heard before you depart. The agency can and usually does say no, however, unless there's some unique and urgent need for quick service.

For contact details, see USCIS's online page on Citizenship for Military Family Members.

Applying for Citizenship If U.S. Citizen Family Member Was Killed in Action

If you have a U.S. green card and your U.S. citizen spouse, child, or parent dies while serving honorably on active duty with the U.S. Armed Forces, and (if you're a spouse) the two of you were married and living together at the time of death, you can apply for U.S. citizenship right away. There is no need to wait to fulfill the usual three- or five-years' U.S. permanent residence requirement. (See I.N.A. § 319(d), 8 U.S.C. § 1430(d).)

This section of the law also works for people whose spouse or parent was granted U.S. citizenship posthumously (after death) under I.N.A. § 329A.

You will still need to meet the general naturalization requirements, however, such as being 18 years old, being able to speak, read, and write English, showing good moral character, and passing a test on U.S. history and government. These will be reviewed at your naturalization interview.

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