When U.S. military members are stationed abroad, they often find someone to love and ultimately marry. When they do, there may be an expedited path to citizenship available for their new spouse. They may also be eligible for citizenship without traveling to the U.S.

Children of U.S. service members may automatically receive U.S. citizenship, or they can naturalize without having to travel to the United States.

Spouses of military service members serving abroad

There is an expedited naturalization (citizenship) process through the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) called “INA 319(b).” To qualify for expedited naturalization under INA 319(b), your spouse must generally meet these requirements:

  • Be 18 or older
  • Be married to a U.S. citizen military member who is, or will be, stationed abroad for a period of a year or more
  • Be authorized to accompany you abroad by your official orders
  • Be present in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) in time for a naturalization application interview
  • Be present in the U.S. at the time of naturalization
  • Declare in good faith that they intend to reside with you abroad and then to reside in the U.S. immediately upon your return from service abroad
  • Be able to read, write and speak basic English
  • Have a basic knowledge of U.S. history and government
  • Have been and continue to be a person of good moral character who is attached to the principles of the U.S. Constitution and well-disposed to the good order and happiness of the U.S.

Expedited processing is not guaranteed and will depend on your situation.

Alternatively, your spouse may be allowed to naturalize outside the United States. This is allowed by INA sections 316(a) or 319(a). The process includes periods of living within the U.S., but you can apply for citizenship while you are abroad, instead. The first step is to obtain lawful permanent resident status (a green card) for your spouse. In general, your spouse will need to meet the requirements for lawful permanent resident status and maintain that status for at least three continuous years.

This process is somewhat complicated, and we recommend discussing your goals with an immigration law attorney.

Children born abroad to U.S.-citizen military members

If you have children who were born abroad, they may automatically acquire citizenship. This happens when they meet all of the following criteria:

  • The child is the natural or adopted child of a parent who is a U.S. citizen
  • The child is under 18
  • The child is a lawful permanent resident
  • The child resides in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the U.S.-citizen parent

However, the children of military service members do not have to reside in the U.S. As long as the child is under 18 and a lawful permanent resident, they automatically acquire U.S. citizenship when they are in the legal and physical custody of a U.S. citizen parent who is residing abroad as a member of the U.S. armed forces.

There are lots of chances for the immediate family members of U.S.-citizen military service members to become U.S. citizens themselves. Contact Yew Immigration Law Group. Attorney Alison Yew is a certified as an immigration law specialist by the State Bar of California.