By Gabrielle Rabon, Medill, Immigrant Connect

[see lead story – How does service in the armed forces change immigrants’ paths to citizenship?]

The journey to citizenship starts before joining the armed forces. With some exceptions, to be accepted into the Armed Forces, an immigrant must reside in the U.S, be a legal permanent resident in possession of a green card and be fluent in English.

In order to receive the benefits of having served, noncitizen veterans must apply for citizenship within six months of discharge, according to USCIS.

Noncitizen veterans who served during peacetime must submit a completed N-426, Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service, prior to submitting the N-400, Application for Naturalization.

Noncitizen veterans do not have to pay the N-400 application fee of $725, consisting of an initial payment of $640 and a biometrics screening fee of $85. The fee is expected to increase by 61% this year, and a program which helps low-income applicants secure a reduced fee is expected to end, according to the Washington Post.

After receiving a green card, noncitizen veterans do not have to wait five years to apply for naturalization. They can apply after only one year of having a green card. Those who served during a time of hostility have additional benefits.They do not have age or residence requirements. Noncitizen veterans on active duty can apply for naturalization from overseas, according to USCIS.

Aside from these differences, the process of applying for naturalization is essentially the same for veterans as nonveterans. Before beginning the process, permanent residents must fill out an M-480, the Naturalization Eligibility Worksheet, to see if they are eligible to apply for citizenship. Generally speaking, immigrants must live in the U.S. as permanent residents for five years, understand basic English, and have a fundamental knowledge of U.S. history and government, though accommodations for extenuating circumstances are listed on the form.

The increasingly bureaucratic application process has made it more difficult for individual veterans to obtain citizenship due to mistakes that are out of their control. For example, a veteran recently approached Margaret Stock because of difficulties with paperwork. The officer overseeing her case has allegedly threatened to deny her application for citizenship because of an error a past employer had made on an I-9 form. The employer had checked that Stock’s client was a U.S. national though she was a foreigner. Stock says she doesn’t fully understand why this was a problem, and feels that the immigration official may be targeting her client because she is a veteran.

“In fact, I’m advising my clients who have an option not to apply as a military member because of the obstacles that [have been placed] in their path at the moment,” Stock said. “If you apply as a civilian, it’s just faster and easier. So if you are willing to pay the money, you’re better off applying as a civilian at the moment.”

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