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Gaining citizenship through military service worldwide: requirements, processes and Tradeoffs

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Gaining citizenship through military service has been a notable pathway for individuals seeking a second passport. This article provides a comprehensive exploration of this process globally, delving into the policies and requirements set by various countries. From the U.S. Armed Forces to the French Foreign Legion and the Russian Military, we will uncover the nuances and challenges associated with acquiring citizenship through military service.

Gaining citizenship through U.S. Armed Forces

Eligibility Requirements

 To pursue U.S. citizenship through military service, individuals must fulfill the following specific eligibility criteria:

  1. Permanent resident status:
    • Applicants must have legal permanent resident (LPR) status in the United States.
    • This entails possessing a Green Card, which signifies authorization to live and work in the U.S.
  2. Adherence to age, fitness, and background qualifications:
    • Age Requirements: Typically, individuals must be between the ages of 17 and 35 to join the U.S. military. Age limits may vary by branch.
    • Physical Fitness: Candidates must meet specific physical fitness standards established by the respective military branch.
    • Background Check: Applicants undergo a thorough background check to ensure they meet the moral and character standards set by the military. Criminal history, drug use, and other factors are considered.
  3. Possession of critical skills or abilities:
    • The military seeks individuals with certain skills, talents, or qualifications that are deemed critical for the success of the armed forces.
    • Specialized skills, educational achievements, or proficiency in languages can enhance an applicant’s desirability.

It’s essential for individuals aspiring to gain U.S. citizenship through military service to carefully review the eligibility criteria of the specific branch they intend to join. Each branch (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard) may have slight variations in their requirements. Additionally, applicants should engage with a recruiter to get personalized guidance and information based on their individual circumstances.

Process

The naturalization process unfolds through a series of steps:

  • Enlistment and honorable service for a set period, typically a minimum of 180 days of active duty.
    • The commitment involves actively contributing to the defense and security of the nation.
  • Filing a Form N-400 application and obtaining certification for honorable service.
    • This step marks the formal initiation of the naturalization process.
  • Participation in a citizenship interview, a comprehensive test covering civics and English, and attendance at an oath ceremony.
    • The culmination of the process, where individuals pledge allegiance and officially become U.S. citizens.
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Becoming a U.S. citizen through service in the military has long been a path for immigrants. But recent years have brought policy changes that alter the landscape. Here, we break down the pros and cons of naturalization through military service – plus alternative options to consider.

The pros of military naturalization

Accelerated Process

The most compelling advantage is the accelerated timeline to citizenship. While civilian applicants face 5+ year wait times, military members can naturalize in as little as 4-6 months of service. This presents a much faster route for those seeking the benefits of citizenship.

Limited Wait Times

Military naturalization candidates also bypass the long processing backlogs facing civilian applicants. There’s no waiting around for your chance to be a citizen.

Fee Waivers

All fees associated with the citizenship application are waived for military service members, saving hundreds of dollars.

Career Prospects

The job training, experience and benefits gained through military service can lead to satisfying civilian careers afterwards.

The cons to consider

Eligibility requirements

Not everyone is eligible for military service, with strict health, age and legal standards. Only certain green card holders may qualify

Limited spots

Each branch of the military has yearly caps on enlistment openings. Competition is stiff for recruitment spots, so nothing is guaranteed

No certainty of citizenship

Recent policy changes mean one can no longer count on becoming a citizen through service. Approval depends on factors like deployment locations and job classifications

Danger and family separation

Being apart from family for trainings and hazardous deployments brings significant downsides. The decision requires weighing risks

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Alternatives beyond military service

For those for whom military service poses too high a barrier, alternatives exist:

  • Explore faster immigration routes like employment-based green cards or EB-5 investment visas.
  • Consider naturalizing through the regular civilian process, despite longer timelines.
  • Seek citizenship through marriage to a U.S. citizen.
  • Weigh the pros and cons of various options beyond military naturalization. 

Citizenship through French foreign legion

The renowned French Foreign Legion offers a distinctive route to French citizenship, but it comes with its own set of requirements and challenges.

Requirements

Individuals aspiring to gain French citizenship through the Legion must fulfill specific criteria:

  • Completion of a minimum of 3 years of intense service.
    • The Legion demands a significant commitment, testing both physical and mental endurance.
  • Successful passage of rigorous background checks.
    • Ensuring that candidates meet the Legion’s high standards.
  • Approval from a General, a critical step in the decision-making process.
    • The General’s approval signifies recognition of the individual’s dedication and contribution.

Process

The naturalization process within the French Foreign Legion involves meticulous steps:

  • Applying for citizenship after successfully completing the mandatory 3 years of duty.
    • The application marks the beginning of the formal naturalization process.
  • The decision on citizenship is made by a General, adding a layer of prestige to the approval.
    • The General’s decision is a testament to the individual’s commitment and service.
  • Traveling to Nantes to complete the naturalization process, marking the final stage.
    • This journey signifies the transition from a Legionnaire to a French citizen.

Pros and cons

Gaining French citizenship through the Foreign Legion presents a unique set of advantages and challenges:

  • Pros include the reward for service and the prestige associated with surviving demanding conditions.
    • The Legion’s reputation adds an element of honor to the citizenship acquisition.
  • Cons involve the high risks associated with the rigorous and demanding nature of Legionnaire duty.
    • The challenges include physical endurance, adapting to an intense environment, and potential exposure to hazardous situations.
  • The opportunity for a new identity may appeal to those seeking a fresh start.
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Other countries’ policies

The landscape of gaining citizenship through military service extends beyond individual countries, encompassing various policies and considerations worldwide.

Who faces compulsory service

The following countries enforcing compulsory military or civilian service:

  • Austria
  • Finland
  • Mexico
  • Singapore

Compulsory service reflects a commitment to national defense and public service.

Countries requiring service for citizenship

In certain countries around the world, one pathway to obtaining citizenship is through service – either military or civilian national service. Let’s explore some of the key countries where service can open a path to naturalization.

Israel

Israel offers one of the clearest routes to citizenship through military service. Those who serve honorably in the Israeli Defense Forces can apply for citizenship after completing required service periods:

  • 24 months minimum for men
  • 20 months minimum for women

Beyond defense forces duty, volunteer work with emergency services like police, firefighting or prisons also counts as qualifying national service.

The Philippines

The Philippines used to offer an direct path to citizenship for U.S. nationals serving honorably for three years in the Philippine military. However, this program was discontinued in 2003.

Some avenues may still exist, such as expedited citizenship for Filipino dual nationals or foreign spouses of citizens. But military service alone no longer guarantees Philippine citizenship

Effects on women

The impact of policies on women serving in armed forces and the limitations or options for women seeking citizenship through this avenue:

  • Policies on women vary, with some countries restricting military service and conscription to males.
  • In contrast, options for women exist in the U.S., the U.K., and Israel, where combat roles are open to all.

Understanding the diverse policies on women in the military underscores the evolving nature of gender roles in armed forces globally.