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Other Information- Enlistment for Immigrants


SUBJECT: Enlistment and Commissioning Standards for Immigrants


The Department of Defense supports the enlistment of aliens to the extent permitted by existing law and subject to their being otherwise qualified for service in the United States Armed Forces. The purpose of this paper is to describe the conditions under which such enlistments are allowed.


  • Title 10, United States Code, Sections 3253 and 8253, state that to be eligible for enlistment in the regular Army or Air Force in time of peace, an individual must be an American citizen or lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence. While there is no equivalent statute limiting enlistment in the regular Navy and Marine Corps, the same citizenship requirements for the Army and Air Force are also generally applied to those Services.
  • For enlistment into the Reserve Components, Title 10, United States Code, Section 12102, states, " person may be enlisted as a Reserve unless (1) he is a citizen of the United States or (2) has been admitted to the United States for permanent residence under the Immigration and Nationality Act….or has previously served in the Armed Forces or in the National Security Training Corps”.
  • Accordingly, the Military Services do not recruit non-citizen nationals unless they have been issued a “Green Card” by the U. S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.
  • To be eligible for appointment as a commissioned or warrant officer, U.S. citizenship is required (Section 532 and 591 of Title 10). For Reserve officer appointments, an individual must be lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence under the Immigration and Nationality Act or has previously served in the Armed Forces or in the National Security Training Corps (Section 12201 of Title 10). For Regular appointment, when tendered, U.S. citizenship is required.
  • By law, National Guard officers must be U.S. citizens (Title 32, United States Code, Section 313).
  • With respect to Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs, since most students are here on student visas (not the same status as “Green Card” holder), they cannot contract into an ROTC program which is a requirement in order to receive scholarship monies. They may enroll and participate in ROTC programs as non-scholarship cadets, usually for the first two years in college or university – beyond that, they would need to be eligible to contract (i.e., be a U.S. citizen) or have received a waiver pending eligibility.
  • The Department of Defense does not become involved in the citizenship process, does not sponsor individuals for citizenship, nor support applications for citizenship or entry into the United States. This process is an individual responsibility.
  • Citizenship or permanent resident status does not guarantee enlistment into the Armed Forces; eligibility for enlistment is also conditioned upon qualification under prescribed age, physical fitness, aptitude, education, and moral character standards that are applicable to all candidates. These established standards govern the acceptability of aliens just as they determine U.S. citizens’ eligibility to serve in our Armed Forces.
  • Permanent resident aliens are restricted from enlisting in many of our military's more technical programs and specialties because of mandatory security clearance requirements. Positions requiring citizenship include occupations such as electronics and intelligence ratings, aircrew positions, and special warfare programs such as Navy SEALs. This is not a requirement that can be waived.
  • Background security checks for enlistees are similar same for citizens and resident aliens. Both groups undergo a National Agency Check based on full set of fingerprints against FBI files. In addition, an INS files check is conducted for resident aliens.
  • The table below shows the percent of non prior Service enlistees who were non-citizens (i.e., resident aliens) by Fiscal Year:

    Non Citizen Non Prior Service Accessions

    # Non Citizens
    Total # Accessions

  • As of April 2002, there were a total of 31,044 resident aliens on active duty with the U.S. Armed Forces, or just over 2% of the total force of 1,396,238
  • Army-5,862; Navy-15,708; Air Force-2,957; Marine Corps-6,517.
  • Further information about immigration law and policy as it pertains to the military entrance of resident aliens may be obtained from the U. S. Immigration and Naturalization Service General Counsel, 4420 North Fairfax Street, Arlington, Virginia, 22203.

Small numbers of lawfully admitted resident aliens serve in the Armed Forces, currently about 2% of the total. They must first undergo a series of background checks, and the positions in which they can serve are limited. Regardless, many go on to distinguish themselves in the service of their adopted country, a long standing tradition.

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