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News   Defense News

DOD Official Testifies on Supporting Naturalization of Eligible Servicemembers

June 29, 2022 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

Since the U.S. founded its military, it has strongly supported and actively promoted the recruitment and naturalization of those who are not nationals or citizens, the Defense Department's accession policy director said.

Stephanie Miller provided testimony today at a virtual House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship hearing on oversight of immigrant military members and veterans.

A man in an Army uniform raises his right hand together with a large group of people.
Naturalization Ceremony
Army Pfc. Heber Pereira, a 63rd Brigade Support Battalion communications specialist, repeats the oath of allegiance alongside other newly naturalized U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Nov. 9, 2012.
Photo By: Air Force Airman 1st Class Jason Couillard
VIRIN: 121109-F-TT327-077C

"The department has a long tradition of welcoming non-citizens into the profession of arms as critical members of our fighting team and supporting their efforts to obtain U.S. citizenship on the basis of hard-won, honorable military service," she said.

This includes about 10,000 individuals recruited annually who bring unique knowledge, skills and abilities that directly support national security priorities, she said.

The department has been an active participant of the Immigrant Military Members and Veterans Initiative, the interagency working group that formed after the signing of Executive Order 14012 in February 2021.

A woman in a formal dress uniform stands and raises her right hand together with a line of people.
Oath of Citizenship
Midshipman candidate Diane Muhizi takes the oath of citizenship during a naturalization ceremony at the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service office in Johnston, R.I., March 19, 2015. Muhizi is a student at the Naval Academy Preparatory School on Naval Station Newport, R.I, and will attend the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
Photo By: Retired Navy Capt. Mark Donahue
VIRIN: 150319-N-D0439-001

In collaboration with Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Veterans Affairs, DOD has continued to expand and improve essential services that support naturalization of qualifying non-citizen service members who choose to apply for U.S. citizenship.

Prior to the establishment of the IMMVI, the department has worked closely with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service to improve the naturalization process, she said.

For example, to address the challenges associated with COVID-19, DOD and USCIS collaborated to establish a pilot process for secure virtual video interviews with service members seeking naturalization, rather than relying on the traditional in-person interview requirement, Miller said.

A group of service members in uniform stand and raise their right hand as they read from a document held in their other hand.
Citizenship Ceremony
Service members recite the oath of citizenship during a naturalization ceremony on the flight deck of the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, Calif., July 3, 2018.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Jasen Moreno-Garcia
VIRIN: 180702-N-LN093-0006C

"By connecting military installation legal services offices with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials, we were able to resume the naturalization process and address a backlog of approximately 400 qualifying military applicants effectively stalled in the naturalization process by the pandemic," she said.

Due to the success of the pilot, secure virtual interviews have become an option available for qualifying applicants to ensure a streamlined means to provide citizenship opportunities around the world, she added.

"Within the department, we continue efforts to refine and improve notification to non-citizen servicemembers of their eligibility for naturalization," Miller said.