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How Might Serving in the Military Help My Immigration Status?

— August 1, 2023

Federal law allows foreign-born individuals serving on active duty or in any reserve capacity to naturalize and achieve citizenship.

Military service may help you and a close family member obtain improved immigration status. There are no guarantees and several qualifications you must meet to take advantage of these benefits. Depending on your situation, joining the military may be a good option for many reasons.

Castillo & Associates helps those in the Inland Empire, Coachella Valley, Indio, Palm Springs, 29 Palms, Twentynine Palms, Military Bases, Riverside & San Bernardino Counties with immigration matters. If you have questions about the military and possible immigration benefits, we’ll be happy to help. Call us at 800-497-9774 or email at  today.

Military naturalizations are a small part of those granted each year, but giving immigrants serving in the military preferences in obtaining citizenship dates back to the Revolutionary War. Over the last hundred years, 760,000 immigrant service members achieved citizenship, with more than 260,000 since 1960.

Federal law allows foreign-born individuals serving on active duty or in any reserve capacity to naturalize and achieve citizenship after completing a year of honorable service during peacetime or immediately if serving during a designated “period of hostility,” including the War on Terrorism (which started on September 11, 2001, and it continues through today).

What are the Enlistment Requirements?

Each branch, except the Marines, expects to fall short of its recruitment goals this year, reports the Military Times. If you or a family member are interested, your local recruiter may be happy to see you and eager to help you reach your goal. Given the shortage of recruits, depending on the branch you join and your duties, you may qualify for an enlistment bonus of up to $50,000, according to

If you aren’t a US citizen, you must have a US Permanent Resident Card (or green card) and read, speak, and write English fluently. Each branch has different age limits. You may be surprised how high some of them are:

  • Air Force: 17 – 39
  • Army: 17 – 35
  • Marine Corps: 17 – 28
  • Navy: 17 – 39
  • Space Force: 17 – 39

Everyone wanting to enlist must take and pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), which will impact what you’ll do while in the military. You must have a high school or general equivalency diploma (GED) to join the military. You may join as an officer if you have a four-year college degree. Recruits must be healthy and physically fit. The branches have their own fitness requirements.

Military soldier saluting
Military soldier saluting; image courtesy of skeeze via Pixabay,

What Immigration Benefits Come with Military Service?

  1. Parole in place

This allows certain family members who entered the US illegally to apply to remain in the country for a year so they can apply for an immigrant visa. The standard procedure is that this family member would leave the US and interview for and hopefully get an immigrant visa at the US consulate in that country.

  1. Overseas naturalization

You normally must live in the US for five years before applying for citizenship. If your spouse is in the military and stationed outside the country, you can count that period if you go with your spouse overseas as time in the US. You may apply for citizenship while there too. Overseas naturalization applies to service members’ children too.

Naturalization is not guaranteed. Military applications can be denied because applicants don’t demonstrate “good moral character,” a term used in immigration law, even if they served in the military honorably. This can happen if the individual has a prior criminal conviction.

  1. Citizenship and permanent residence for surviving family members of military members

You may be eligible for immigration benefits, including citizenship if a close family member was a citizen and was killed by combat-related injuries while serving on active duty.

The spouse, children younger than 21, and the parents of a US citizen who died during honorable service may apply for citizenship immediately. Family members without lawful permanent resident status can seek a green card since they’re the immediate relative of the deceased service member. They have up to two years to do so.

Contact a Southern California Immigration Attorney at Castillo & Associates

Castillo & Associates’ immigration lawyers represent individuals and families throughout the United States, Foreign Countries, San Bernardino, San Diego, Riverside, Orange, and Los Angeles Counties. Though military service can help in immigration matters, nothing’s guaranteed. Retain a lawyer with the experience and resources necessary to help you through the immigration process.

Call us today at 800-497-9774 or fill out our confidential contact form. With five offices in Indio, San Diego, Riverside, Pomona, and Cathedral City, we are here whenever and wherever you need us most. You may also email me at 

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