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Green Cards for U.S. Military Family Members

Our last blog post was the first in a series on the ways in which immigration laws can affect those in the military.  In today’s blog post, we will take a closer look at some immigration benefits that are available for green card holders in the military.  This includes the process for obtaining green cards for U.S. military family members.

What is a green card?

A green card is a permit allowing a foreign national to live and work permanently in the United States. A foreign national usually obtains a green card through sponsorship, either through their job or a family member. Green cards are typically valid for 10 years, or 2 years if it’s a conditional green card based on a marriage that is less than two years old.

Can you enlist in the armed forces if you are not a citizen?

Generally speaking, the armed forces require enlistees to be U.S. citizens or U.S. nationals. However, many people are unaware that this is not always the case.  You can also enlist if you are a lawful permanent resident – meaning a green card holder. Unauthorized immigrants are not permitted to enlist in the armed forces. Although they are required to register for the Selective Service and are subject to serve in a military draft (if there is one).
There are also special circumstances in which a foreigner who is in the United States legally and has a valid Social Security number may enlist. In a situation like this, the enlistment must be vital to the national interest of the country. For example, in 2012 Saral Shrestha of Nepal enlisted while in foreign student status. She was studying computer science at the University of Nebraska and even became the U.S. Army Soldier of the Year.

Can U.S. military family members obtain green cards?

Military family members must apply for green cards in the same way as family members of any other U.S. citizen or permanent resident. This means that they must be sponsored by the military member, who must meet certain income requirements and must file a visa petition on their behalf. If the sponsoring military member is a U.S. citizen, and the family member is a spouse, parent, or child and has entered the U.S. lawfully they can often adjust status. Adjustment of status means that they can apply for a green card without having to leave the United States.

Do U.S. military family members ever face complications in trying to obtain a green card?

Some Military family members are unable to adjust status because they have entered the United States unlawfully. Current law requires them to leave the U.S. to seek an immigrant visa, but once they leave, they may find themselves banned from returning for up to ten years.  Waivers of ten year bans are difficult to obtain and immigration authorities often deny them to military family members. Luckily new policies such as “parole in place,” which we discussed in our previous blog, are easing these strains on military families.
If you a member of the U.S. military and you wish to obtain a green card for a family member, we hope you will consider our law firm to assist you. Contact us for a consultation with an attorney today.