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What Immigration Benefits are there for Military Members and their Immediate Relatives?

Allison Lukanich

Serving in the US Armed Forces is a selfless commitment to the country.  While military service demands much from those who serve, U.S. immigration laws do allow for certain benefits for active duty military, veterans, and their family members.

Naturalization Benefits

There are special laws that dictate when someone serving in the U.S. military may be eligible to naturalize.  Those who are actively serving in the military are not required to wait the standard five (5) years from obtaining their green card status, or three (3) if they are married to a US citizen, to file for naturalization.  There are two provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act that allow an individual to apply for citizenship:

  • The first allows naturalization, regardless of the length of time you’ve held Lawful Permanent Residency, green card status, if you’ve served at least one year in any branch of the US Armed Forces during peacetime. If you are no longer serving, you must have been honorably discharged, and otherwise meet the general requirements for US citizenship.
  • The second allows naturalization at any time, regardless of the length of time you been in any branch of the US Armed Forces if you’ve served during a period of hostility. The US has defined a period of hostility as from September 11, 2001 to the present, so any service from the 2001 attacks to the present would count.  This provision does not require one to hold green card status, but the applicant must demonstrate good moral character for one year immediately preceding the filing of the application.

A Brief Guide to Naturalization [U.S. Citizenship]

MAVNI Program

The MAVNI Program, which stands for Military Accessions Vital to National Interest, was a program created in 2009 to induce those in the health care field or with certain language skills from around the world to join the US Armed Forces.  Unfortunately, the MAVNI Program was put on hold by the Trump Administration in 2017, but it is possible that a future administration would restart the program.

One special point to mention about the MAVNI program, although it is not currently an option, as long as you meet the requirements: currently are a member of the health care profession or with the cultural and language skills sought by the Department of Defense, those in various immigration statuses could join any branch of the US Armed Forces, even if they entered into the U.S. are physically present in a non-immigrant status.

Military Parole in Place

Parole in Place is a discretionary tool used by various immigration agencies to “cure” the issue of a prior unlawful entry so that someone would then be eligible to adjust status in the United States.  The Military Parole in Place (or PIP) program was created under the Obama Administration as an additional benefit for immediate family members of members of the military who are currently in active duty, as well as for the family members of veterans who were honorably discharged.

Many times when attempting to obtain an immigrant benefit while physically present in the U.S., an individual’s manner of entry can be a bar to being able to adjust status in the United States, and that individual cannot leave the country and pursue consular processing for a variety of reasons.

If the individual qualifies for Military PIP through their veteran or active military spouse, parent, or child, the parole acts as an “admission” to the United States, providing them with a legal entry in to the U.S., which then allows the individual to file for permanent residency.

Sometimes, an individual who is the immediate relative of a veteran or active military member may not be eligible for permanent residency status, however he or she can still qualify for Military PIP, which is valid for one year and makes one eligible for employment authorization.  The employment authorization can then be renewed yearly. Allowing the beneficiary to not only be lawfully employed, but to also obtain a driver’s license and social security number.

Additional Benefits

The immigration system abroad, through the U.S. Embassies and Consulates around the world, have set up additional options for military members who are currently deployed in bases around the world to petition for their immediate relatives in an expedited manner.  The US has a number of military bases and installations in Germany, for example, and the US Consulate in Frankfurt, Germany accepts and processes I-130 petitions and helps procure immigrant visas in approximately 180 days to support military members whose deployment may be ending.

If you or an immediate relative has served in the US Armed Forces and you have some questions about the possible immigration benefits you or they are entitled to, please do not hesitate to contact Bashyam Shah today to schedule a consultation.