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Immigration Service, DoD Join to Speed Citizenship Process (corrected copy)

By Staff Sgt. Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 27, 2000 – A new area of cooperation between DoD and the Immigration and Naturalization Service has led to speedier processing of citizenship requests for service members.

Typically, there is a five-year residency requirement before an alien is eligible for U.S. citizenship. However, individuals with three years of military service are eligible regardless of how long they’ve lived in the United States. There are roughly 28,000 resident aliens serving in the U.S. military, DoD officials said.

DoD was running into problems, however, in the time it took the INS to process requests. Jim Wolffe, a special assistant to the secretary of the Air Force, said it was taking up to three years to process citizenship applications. But not being an American citizen can place hardships on individuals’ military careers. It can impede security clearances, promotions, overseas assignments and deployments, and in some cases, reenlistments.

Extensive processing times aren’t a problem any longer. Through Air Force and Army administrative offices and through Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard legal offices, the services are now assisting service members in completing all necessary paperwork and presenting the INS with completed packets.

“A big part of the delay in the past is that applications, which had to work their way through the system, would get to the point where someone was ready to work on them and one piece would be missing,” Wolffe said. Then the packet would go back, and the whole process would start over again. With quality-assurance checks along the way, Wolffe believes the problem should go away.

“In exchange, what the INS has agreed to do is process all military applications through their office in Lincoln, Neb.,” he said. “They’ll have people there who know what a military application looks like and know how to deal with it.”

Wolffe called the program a “win-win-win” situation. He said it’s good for everyone involved: individuals get their citizenship faster; the services don’t have to deal with as many restrictions on individuals’ careers; and the INS gets some of their workload done for them.

“The bottom line is these 28,000 people are every bit as dedicated to their service as citizens are,” Wolffe said. “If we could find a way to make this process easier for them there was no sense not to do it. You can call it quality of life, you can call it putting people first, but it just plain made sense.”

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