Far Fewer Troops Applying to Be US Citizens This Year, Officials Say

Participants in the naturalization ceremony recite the Pledge of Allegiance. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Timothy D. Hale)
Participants in the naturalization ceremony recite the Pledge of Allegiance. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Timothy D. Hale)

The number of non-citizen U.S. troops applying for and being approved for naturalization went down significantly again in the first three months of 2018, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) reported Monday.

Applications for citizenship among U.S. troops went down by about 40 percent in the second quarter of fiscal 2018 (January, February and March), dropping from 1,069 in the first quarter of fiscal 2018 to 661, CIS said.

Approvals declined by about 44 percent, from 745 in the first quarter to 412 in the second, the agency added.

CIS officials, speaking on background, attributed the declines mainly to the ending of recruitment in 2016 under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program and to a major change in Defense Department policy on non-citizen troops enacted last year.

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The new DoD rules for non-citizen troops who enlisted on or after Oct. 13, 2017, require more extensive background checks and honorable service of at least 180 days before an application for naturalization can be filed.

In addition, those completing the 180 days must get approval from an officer of the rank of O-6 or above, rather than from their personnel office, as was previously done, to advance to the next step in naturalization -- completion of CIS form N-426, or "Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service."

The changes in DoD policy and the effective end of the MAVNI program, in which legal immigrants were recruited primarily for their language or medical skills, began to register major declines in applications and approvals for naturalization among non-citizen troops in the first quarter of fiscal 2018.

The number of applicants dropped from 3,132 in the last quarter of fiscal 2017, ending Sept. 30, to 1,069 in the first quarter of fiscal 2018, ending Dec. 31, CIS said.

The number of troops approved to become naturalized citizens dropped from 2,123 in the last quarter of fiscal 2017 to 755 in the first quarter of fiscal 2018, it continued.

Despite the drops in applications and initial approvals by the military, CIS said it maintains an 80 percent approval rate for citizenship once it receives the fully adjudicated forms from the DoD.

"Honorable military service remains a strong and viable path to U.S. citizenship," CIS spokesman Jonathan Withington said in a statement. "As a proud partner of the Department of Defense, USCIS remains committed to adjudicating every application fairly, efficiently, and effectively in accordance with the law."

A CIS official, speaking on background, said, "We really haven't changed the way we do business" at CIS, but the process in delivering the required paperwork to CIS for final approval has changed significantly.

According to CIS, from Oct. 1, 2001, through Sept. 30, 2017, 125,452 members of the military became citizens through the naturalization process.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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