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It is not hard for foreign-born spouses of servicemembers to become U.S. citizens if they know where to go for help, according to some military legal officials.

Lt. Jeff Ames, head of the civil law department at the Naval Legal Services Office in Naples, Italy, said his staff fields naturalization, green card and visa questions every day.

“We wanted to make sure people know that as far as expedited citizenship and getting visas and green cards for anybody married to a servicemember — this office does this literally on a daily basis,” Ames said.

“They’re trained on it and know it well.”

Ames was responding to a July 3 story in Stars and Stripes about two servicemembers who had to leave spouses behind after being transferred because of citizenship problems.

Stars and Stripes reported that Petty Officer 1st Class Brian Vinh had to leave his Vietnamese wife and two children in California in August 2001 when he transferred to Naples.

Vinh said he did not receive adequate advice from the Navy and used a U.S. congresswoman to help his wife become a U.S. citizen. In October, Vicky Vinh became a U.S. citizen and moved with her children to Naples.

In another case, the wife of Cmdr. Ron Horton, the executive officer of the USS Abraham Lincoln, was ruled ineligible for U.S. citizenship because Horton’s overseas tour interrupted his wife’s U.S. residency requirement.

Ames, who said his office in Naples employs four to five legal assistants at a time, said Naval Legal Services Offices in Sigonella, Italy; Rota, Spain; Bahrain and London can help not only Navy members but all servicemembers, Department of Defense civilian employees and DOD retirees.

“We can have for someone their visa and green card within six months,” Ames said.

“We can get citizenship for someone with a green card within six months.

“We want to make sure if you’re a spouse of a servicemember and are a foreign citizen to come in and see an immigration attorney. They can identify which hole your case fits into and say, ‘This is your scenario, this is how we’re going to do it.’ ”

Ames acknowledged that some people have a harder time getting naturalized.

“You get certain cases that don’t fit neatly within the law,” he said.

Wylie K. Miller, president of the U.S. Military Retiree Association of Southern Italy, said his Italian wife, Renata, got expedited naturalization in 1993.

The retired Air Force technical sergeant said the U.S. embassy in Rome mailed him the needed forms in February 1993. He filled them out and mailed them to the American consulate in Naples.

Three months later, Miller and his wife emigrated to Los Angeles where she received her alien registration number and passed her oral citizenship test. Four months later, they returned to Los Angeles and Renata was sworn in as a U.S. citizen.

“We applied for her U.S. passport at Los Angeles International Airport and flew back to Italy,” Miller said. “About two weeks later, her U.S. passport arrived [in the mail] and we’ve been living happily ever after.”

Millie Waters, a spokeswoman for the Installation Management Agency-Europe in Heidelberg, Germany, said counseling for Army personnel is available at U.S. Army Europe, legal assistance offices, personnel detachment passport offices or at U.S. embassies and consulates.

“It is important to remember that not all spouses are in the same category for application purposes,” Waters said in a statement.

“Immigration is an area outside the authority of the Department of Defense. It is very important that persons who wish to apply for naturalization complete the forms correctly and completely and only do so after thoroughly reviewing the information available from their passport offices.”

Between 1991-2002, nearly 31,000 foreign-born military dependents became U.S. citizens through naturalization, according to the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Foreign spouses who become U.S. citizens are eligible for protection and benefits under U.S. law.

Finding answers

For information on naturalization processes, go to:

• www.jag.navy.mil and click on “legal assistance,” then “immigration.”• www.bcis.gov for the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services.

— From staff reports

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