Ask Stew: Joining the U.S. Military or Special Ops from a Foreign Country

U.S. Oath of Allegiance
Thirty-seven service members from 22 different countries take the Oath of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony held at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, on July 4, 2013. (Sgt. Anita VanderMolen/U.S. Army photo)

Though this question is not focused on physical fitness preparation for the military, I hear from enough people who are non-citizens, as well as Green Card holders, that it’s worth me giving a good answer with plenty of reference sites to help with that journey.

Mr. Smith, I am a longtime reader of your articles on Fitness, and they have helped me with my training. I am a kid from the Philippines and have been wanting to join the United States military for a long time. I work out all the time and am reaching U.S. military fitness standards as I want to prepare myself for Army Special Forces. Is there a chance that I can become a member of Army Special Operations Command as a Green Beret? Can foreigners serve in the military in America? -- Thanks, Serge


I hope you can become a U.S. citizen one day, since that is a requirement for military jobs that require a security clearance. You cannot get a top-secret security clearance as a non-citizen, but you can join the military with a green card.

I usually leave the rest of this answer to the initiative of the person asking the question, as this is not at all my area of expertise. But after some research into this topic, I found answers to the typical follow-on questions, such as how one gets a green card and how one becomes a U.S citizen.

According to, here are the requirements for non-citizens to join the military:

  • Have a permanent resident card, also known as a green card
  • Currently live in the U.S.
  • Speak, read and write English fluently

Green Card Application Process

The big question is about the green card, or permanent resident card, and how to apply for it.

Whether you are eligible to apply for citizenship can depend on many factors; see the eligibility requirement categories to get a green card. If you are eligible, you will need to file Form I-485 -- application to register permanent residence.

You will need supporting documents, which are explained in the process, as well as processing fees that will range from $750 to $1,200, depending on your age and status.

Statistically speaking, most people who apply need to complete at least two forms -- an immigrant petition and a green card application. You may require a sponsor to file the petition for you. That sponsor also must be at least 18 years old and a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident. In some cases, you may be eligible to file for yourself.

Once you live in the United States and have your green card, you can join the military. My advice would be to join the regular Army when you have your green card and apply for citizenship while serving. During the process of becoming a soldier, you can train for your special ops dreams with like-minded soldiers in your unit and be prepared to make that switch to attend Special Forces by applying to the training when the citizenship gets approved.

I would try to get infantry or airborne skills during your initial few years in the Army, as that will serve you well with your future goals in Special Ops training pipelines.

Applying for Citizenship as a Military Member

There are special forms that active-duty military members with green cards file to become a citizen. Serving in the military typically makes the citizenship process faster.

As you can see, the process to get a green card and become a U.S citizen is not easy and may require professional assistance.

One of the reasons I would recommend joining with a green card is that many military installations have a designated U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) liaison to help with the naturalization application process.

I have a few foreign-born friends who wanted to be Americans and serve in our military. Watching them go through this process and see it culminate in a naturalization ceremony was one of the most special moments I have witnessed in my life.

The American dream is real for those who go after it. Good luck with your journey. I hope it works out for you as it did some of the finest Americans I know.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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