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No Mandatory Wait Period for Service Members to Become Citizens

By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 30, 2002 – All military members who are legal resident aliens can now apply for citizenship without a mandatory wait period.

There is a five-year conditional period from the time individuals get their green cards through the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service until they can apply to become naturalized U.S. citizens, INS officials said.

Under previous rules, that mandatory wait time was reduced to three years for military members. After a July 4 executive order, there is no mandatory wait period for military members.

"Thousands of our men and women in uniform were born in other countries and now spend each day in honorable service to their adopted land. Many of them are still waiting for the chance to become American citizens because of the waiting period for citizenship," President Bush said in a July 4 speech in West Virginia.

"These men and woman love our country. They show it in their daily devotion to duty," he said. "Out of respect for their brave service in this time of war, I have signed an executive order allowing them an immediate opportunity to petition for citizenship in the United States of America."

White House officials said as many as 15,000 service members affected by the waiting period could now be eligible to apply for citizenship under the new rules. DoD statistics put the number of legal resident aliens serving in the military at roughly 31,000.

An INS official explained anyone who has served honorably between Sept. 11 and a date to be determined is eligible under the new rules.

"If someone got out of the military before the change but has served since Sept. 11, that individual is still eligible to apply for naturalization," INS spokesman Chris Bentley said. He explained the naturalization process typically takes eight to 10 months from the time an application packet is submitted until the oath of citizenship is administered.

An application packet must contain several INS forms, all available on the Internet, a set of fingerprints, and other documentation. Information on naturalization is on the Internet at www.ucis.gov or available by calling the National Customer Service Center toll-free at 1-800-375-5283.

Individuals can also get assistance from INS field offices or the Application Support Center. Locations of these offices can be found on the agency's Internet site.

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