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Signing up to be a soldier for a country not initially your own and to be willing and able to defend and die for its ideals is probably the most courageous and noble act a person can do. After all, it is undeniable that going to war carries with it the risk of losing one’s life. The United States, the leader of the Free World, fully recognizes the importance of that supreme sacrifice. The laws granting citizenship to foreigners or non-U.S. citizens who fight with U.S. military forces have evolved to address the realities of global conflicts since World War I, giving rise to distinct ways of acquiring U. S. citizenship.

There are unique circumstances when a person enlists in the military even without a green card and serve honorably during specific period of conflicts, like the case of World War II Filipino-American veterans who fought side by side with American soldiers. The WWII veterans were not required to be lawful permanent residents in the U.S. but were automatically vested with U.S. citizenship after submission of proof of service. These rules are provided for by wartime statutes and are still enforced, especially post 09/11 era.

In recent years, emphasis has been placed on peacetime naturalization law, when one enlists with the U.S. military while residing in the U.S. Joining the military does not necessarily require an applicant to be a U.S. citizen. It only requires that one is in a valid permanent resident status (LPR).  A few other groups allowed to enlist are: (a) citizens of countries with which the U.S. has a treaty such as the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Palau and Micronesia; (b) some foreigners legally in the U.S. on a non-immigrant visa if it is determined that enlistment is “vital to national interest.” At any given time, the U.S. strategically opens its doors to immigrants from all over the world who can potentially “beef up” its military forces. The benefits of being part of the U.S. military, vis-à-vis being an immigrant, are probably widely unknown.

Immigration benefits and advantages are numerous, not just for the military members but also for their spouses, dependent children and, to a certain extent, parents.

A green card holder (U.S. lawful permanent resident or LPR) who becomes a member of the U.S. armed forces, upon compliance with military service requirements, can expeditiously apply for U.S. citizenship without being required to comply with 3- or 5-year residency in the United States.  Further, in the event that the soldier is injured or develops a disabling condition caused or aggravated by military service and eventually dies, he can be granted U.S. citizenship posthumously.

In such case, the soldier’s death would benefit people who are his or her kindred , i.e.,  spouse, children or parents. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security prioritizes resources to take care of dependents and immediate relatives of American soldiers, alive or not. It is their unconditional and fearless service in the U.S. military that matters.

Spouses and children of those who have lost their lives because of military service can self-petition as immediate relatives of the U.S. citizen-soldier, whose citizenship is recognized, posthumously.  Spouses (who are LPR) of U.S. citizen soldiers who are still in service are privileged to avail themselves of an expeditious application for U.S. naturalization, upon compliance with requirements.

Under normal conditions, non-military applicants for naturalization are required to be physically present in the United States for a certain period of time before they can qualify and be granted citizenship. For soldiers and their spouses, time spent in other countries where they were deployed will be counted in their favor.

Other benefits for qualified relatives of military personnel will be discussed in the next article.