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CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — Foreign spouses of U.S. servicemembers stationed overseas no longer must fly to the United States to obtain citizenship, according to a new law and Department of Homeland Security officials.

Representatives of the department’s Citizenship and Immigration Services can now interview and swear in command-sponsored foreign spouses and children at their overseas stations, officials said Thursday.

On May 29, Zita Choucan became the first military spouse to obtain citizenship under the new law at the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt, Germany.

Officials are now reviewing their case loads in South Korea and Japan for applicants who may qualify, said Kenneth Sherman, Citizenship and Immigration Services field office director at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.

"We’ve already identified two cases in Japan and one possible case in Korea," said Sherman, who oversees citizenship applications in both countries.

The new procedure granting citizenship at duty stations was approved in the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, which President Bush signed Jan. 28.

Spouses must still go through a background check and all of the same procedures they would while seeking citizenship in the United States, Sherman said.

They also must hold permanent resident-status "green cards" for at least three years.

Adopted children applying for citizenship must have a parent who is a U.S. citizen and has spent at least five years in the United States.

Time spent at an overseas duty station counts toward that five years, according to the law.

The new law sounds like a blessing to Darrell Thomas, safety officer for the 2nd Infantry Division at Camp Red Cloud in Uijeongbu, South Korea.

Thomas married a South Korean woman 10 years ago, and they’ve dealt with hassles along the way when moving to different duty stations because of her nationality.

She had been thinking about getting U.S. citizenship, but under the old system, Thomas would have had to pay for plane tickets, hotels, food and other expenses to send his family stateside for the citizenship interview and test, he said.

"That’s a fairly good chunk of change," Thomas said.

"This should reduce my cost tremendously. … If I can just drive down to Seoul, that’s a no-brainer for me."

Where to start

Spouses applying for citizenship must first fill out the N-400 application form and send it to the Nebraska Service Center. Applications are available at www.uscis.gov

Processing the form could go quickly or take months, depending on case load, said Kenneth Sherman, Citizenship and Immigration Services field office director at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.

Once the form is processed, the applicant should contact the nearest Department of Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services office.

Sherman heads that office for both South Korea and Japan.

Sherman says he usually travels to Okinawa once a year and to Yokosuka Naval Base two or three times a year to perform citizenship ceremonies and take care of related business.

He performs citizenship ceremonies in South Korea about every three months, he said.

Prospective citizens can reach the U.S. Embassies abroad in Seoul at (82)-2-397-4114, or 02-397-4114 inside South Korea.

— Stars and Stripes


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