“Can someone become legal by joining the U.S. military? I know of two young, intelligent people in Ireland who would love to come to the U.S. but have no prospects for doing so. They would happily join the military in exchange for a green card/citizenship. Is this possible? I imagine it would be, or should be, given that we are so short on military personnel given the wars we are fighting.”

Yours is a question that comes up from time to time, but the answer remains the same. Those eligible to join the U.S. military must be either American citizens or legal permanent residents (green card holders).

However, last year the U.S. military began a pilot campaign to recruit temporary skilled visa holders – for example, those here legally on employment or student visas. Those eligible would have to have lived here continuously for two years, and would need to speak English. The pilot program was limited to 1,000 new recruits in the first year.

And what would a recruit gain in exchange for enlisting? A very fast track to U.S. citizenship that could save years and hundreds of dollars.

So to answer your question, your friends in Ireland would have to already be in the U.S. legally in order to join the military. Enlisting for service is also a years-long, very serious commitment that cannot be taken lightly. It’s something that requires serious thought before proceeding because once you’re in, it’s very difficult to get out.

Getting back to U.S. immigration advantages for members of the military, they certainly are enticing. Those in the armed forces have their own set of naturalization rules, and can pretty much apply for U.S. citizenship immediately after enlisting.

Under Section 329 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, members of the military who have served honorably, even for one day, during a designated period of hostility can immediately apply for U.S. citizenship.

As you can imagine, since September 11, 2001 we have been in a “designated period of hostility,” so all non-national military members who have joined since that time are instantly eligible for citizenship, provided they meet the other usual eligibility requirements. (The president, though an Executive Order, can call time on a period of hostility, but given the state of the world these days that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.)

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), the military naturalization applicant must have served honorably in active duty status, or as a member of the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve, for any amount of time during a designated period of hostilities. If separated from the U.S. armed forces, the applicant must have been separated honorably.

Eligible military members are also exempted from paying the naturalization paperwork filing fees, which currently stand at $595. And spouses and children of members are also eligible for expedited naturalization, provided other conditions are met.

"The foundation of our national security is the patriotic service and extraordinary sacrifices made by the men and women of our armed forces," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said last month. "Expediting the citizenship process for service members reflects our commitment to honoring those who come from all over the world to serve our country and become its newest citizens."

Originally publised in 2010.