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Whether you’re entering the Air Force as an enlisted Airman or an officer, there are a lot of factors that will shape your journey, including your unique background, current situation and goals for the future. We’ll help you determine the best path for you and figure out what steps you need to take to get your Air Force career started.
There are many reasons why someone would want to join the Air Force, but for some foreign nationals, it could be a streamlined path to US Citizenship!
Citizens of foreign countries provide many benefits, such as advanced foreign language skills, vast cultural experience, and generally make the US Air Force a more diverse military fighting force. These are all critical benefits given the current threats facing the US and the world.
So what are the requirements, and what does the path to citizenship look like?
Let’s break it down.
In order to enlist in the Air Force as a foreign national there some requirements.
- Must possess an Immigration and Naturalization Service Alien Registration Card (INS Form I-155/551), more commonly known as a “Green Card.” For steps on obtaining a Green Card, see USCIS website.
- Be between 17 and 39-years-old
- Have a high school diploma or GED (with certain ASVAB score requirements)
- Meet minimum ASVAB scores
- Must meet all mental, moral, and physical standards for enlistment
- Must speak, read and write English fluently
CRITICAL LANGUAGE NOTE: The Air Force is currently recruiting certain legal, non-citizens into active duty who have critical language and cultural skills in one of seven strategic languages. You must have a valid and unexpired visa issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service. See a recruiter for more information.
In a nutshell, you have to meet the minimum requirements of enlistment that everyone else does, but you also have to have a valid Green Card…unless you have a critical language. If you have a critical language, you are special!! You only need a valid visa.
Currently, you can join Active Duty, Reserve, or National Guard Air Force components because we are currently in a period of hostility. In peacetime, active duty would be your only option. See ways to obtain citizenship below.
Also, foreign nationals can only be in an AFSC that does not require a security clearance. Once citizenship is obtained then you can retrain and obtain the needed clearance.
Path to Citizenship
Once you have taken your oath and shipped off to basic training then your path to citizenship starts.
According to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Citizenship for Military Members webpage and Immigration and Nationality Act, Act 328 and 329, there are two ways to obtain citizenship through serving. They are:
- Naturalization through One Year of Qualifying Service during “Peacetime.”
- Naturalization through Qualifying Service during Periods of Hostilities.
You are in luck because right now because the United States is currently in a period of hostility which began on after the terror attacks on September 11th, 2001. This means that you only have to serve 1 day on active duty before you can start your citizenship application!
You’re going to be too busy in basic training to start your application, but you could start it as soon as you get to your AFSC Technical School.
Every base as a naturalization representative that is assigned to assist in military members in the citizenship process. Be sure to look them up immediately to get the ball rolling. The naturalization representative can assist you with:
- Certification of Form N-426
- Information on fingerprinting and how to comply with requirements
- Submitting the Form N-400 package to the Nebraska Service Center (NSC)
After you submit you package, you can expect to be interviewed and tested on US History and the English language.
Because the Department of Defense and USCIS have a memorandum of agreement, the application process is expedited and may take 6 to 8 months. Also, because of your military service, all naturalization fees are waived (only during periods of hostilities).
Now the bad news
If for whatever reason, if you do not obtain citizenship in a timely manner or at all, then there are a few consequences.
- Unable to reenlist without citizenship.
- Possibility of not being able to attend Airman Leadership School (ALS) due to retainability requirements.
- Unable to sew on Staff Sergeant (SSgt) due to not being able to attend ALS.
- Unable to retrain without citizenship.
- Unable to obtain a security clearance without citizenship.
- Ineligible for Palace chase/Palace Front programs without citizenship.
The United States Air Force is the aerial and space warfare branch of the US Military.
Their core missions include:
- Air And Space Superiority
- Global Integrated ISR
- Rapid Global Mobility
- Global Strike
- Command And Control
Note: Some of the below qualifications are required by all five services, including the Air Force:
- You must be a U.S. citizen or resident alien.
- You must be at least 17 years old (17-year old applicants require parental consent) to apply and in BMT before your 28th birthday. Other specific age requirements apply for enlisted.
- You must (with very few exceptions) have a high school diploma or meet the ASVAB qualifications to apply with a GED.
- You must pass a physical medical exam, and meet the height and weight requirements.
- Must meet specific scoring requirements on the ASVAB (specific ASVAB requirements for each AFSC)
- Meet the Air Force PT Test Standards
Sign Up Process
The sign up process varies for both enlisted and officers. You can expect the following path with each:
- Before you enlist, you must take the ASVAB. Details on what that entails here.
- Physical and Mental Screening: After you’ve taken the ASVAB, your recruiter will make an appointment for you at a nearby Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS).
- Once you’ve been processed through MEPS, you’ll go into the Delayed Entry Program (DEP). This means you’ll be waiting for a departure dates for boot camp.
There are actually 3 ways to enter the Air Force as an officer. They include:
- Attend Officer Training School (OTS) after getting your college degree
- Attend and graduate from the US Air Force Academy
- Join ROTC in College (contingent on your university / a nearby university having an ROTC program)
What Is The U.S. Air Force?
One of the five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, the U.S. Air Force. It defends the United States through control and exploitation of air and space.
What Is The Cut-Off Age For Joining The Air Force?
Non-prior service applicants must be in Basic Military Training before their 28th birthday. Officer Training School applicants must be commissioned prior to their 35th birthday. Physician, Nurse and Allied Health applicants must be in Commissioned Officer Training before their 40th birthday. Prior service applicant age limitations may differ from what is stated above. Prior service applicants should contact their local recruiter for age cut-offs.
What’s The ASVAB?
The ASVAB is a test that measures your aptitudes. It consists of ten short individual tests covering word knowledge, paragraph comprehension, arithmetic reasoning, mathematics knowledge, general science, auto and shop information, mechanical comprehension, electronics information, numerical operations, and coding speed. When you take the ASVAB prior to enlisting, not only do you receive scores on each of these individual tests, but several individual test results are combined to yield three academic composite scores: verbal, math and academic ability.
How Do I Prepare?
If you are in high school, your first concern should be education. Stay in school and graduate. Say no to drugs, keep yourself physically fit, and stay out of trouble. Remember, take the hard classes (i.e. , upper-level Math, English, and Science, etc.) and you’ll have more opportunities later on.
What Are Some Benefits Of Joining?
- Steady Income: You are paid twice a month, on the 1st and 15th, every month, based on your pay grade and service requirements.
- Advancement: You are promoted based on job knowledge, performance, time in pay grade, and service requirements.
- Paid Vacation: You earn 2.5 days paid vacation per month for a total of 30 days each year up to 60 days.
- Training: You choose a career path based on your aptitude, physical abilities, security clearance, motivation, and determination. All specialties are open to women, including combat roles.
- Health Care: While on active duty, you will receive complete medical and dental care at no cost.
- Life Insurance: Active duty members select up to $200,000 in term life insurance for $18 per month.
- Allowances: You may also receive additional tax-free money for Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) if government housing is not available; Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS), if government food facilities are not available in the area you are stationed; and a uniform allowance (for enlisted personnel only) to help maintain your uniform.
- Tax Advantage: Only your basic monthly pay is subject to Federal or State income tax.
- GI Bill: The Montgomery GI Bill and Post 9/11 GI Bill will help pay for college education or vocational training.
- Tuition Assistance: While on active duty, you may continue your education, and may be helped in defraying the cost of college-accredited courses.
- Additional Benefits: There are exchange and commissary privileges, moving allowances, temporary lodging expenses, travel, survivor benefits, Veterans Administration home loans and more.
Does The Air Force Take People With Prior Service?
Yes. The service accepts prior-service people but on a very limited basis.
What If I Am Not A U.S. Citizen?
Only U.S. citizens or foreign nationals legally residing in the United States with an Immigration and Naturalization Service Alien Registration Card (“Green Card” — INS Form I-151/551) may apply. Applicants must speak, write and read English fluently.
Can The Military Help Me Obtain U.S. Citizenship?
No. The U.S. military cannot assist foreign nationals in obtaining admittance into the United States.
What If I Live Overseas?
Regulations prohibit the forwarding of recruiting information through international mail, even to U.S. citizens living in foreign countries. Use our online form to reach a recruiter electronically.
How Long Is Boot Camp Or Basic Military Training?
Air Force BMT is eight a half weeks long.
What Is BMT Like?
The United States Air Force Basic Military Training Program (often called BMT for short), consists of 8 weeks of intense training (not including 4-5 in-processing days) intended to release the potential within an individual and produce the best Airman possible.
Should I Do Anything Before I Go To BMT?
Yes. The more fit you are when you arrive, the better your chances are for avoiding injury and graduating from Basic Military Training. Start out slowly and work out at least 3 times a week. Focus your training program on situps, pushups, and running two miles.
How Do I Become An Officer?
You can become an officer through the U.S. Air Force Academy, ROTC, OTS, the Airmen Education and Commissioning Program, or Direct Commissioning programs. See our Air Force jobs page.
What Is The Airman Education And Commissioning Program?
The Airman Education and Commissioning Program is for active-duty airmen who have already completed at least 45 semester hours of college credit. With such a head start, you may apply for this very competitive program. AECP gives active-duty airmen the opportunity to attend a full-time course of study in fields the Air Force determines are most critical — such as computer engineering, computer science, electronic engineering, meteorology, and nursing. While enrolled in school, AECP participants are promoted to the grade of Staff Sergeant (E-5) and receive their full Air Force pay and benefits plus money for tuition and books.
What Is The U.S. Air Force Academy?
The U.S. Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs trains prepares young men and women to lead as Air Force officers. Cadets complete four years of studies leading to a bachelor of science degree. Emphasis is given to academics, military training, athletic conditioning, and spiritual and ethical development. Academics include classes in the basic sciences, engineering, the humanities, and the social sciences. Within this framework, all cadets complete a core curriculum consisting of 91.5 semester hours. They can specialize in any of 25 academic major.
How Do I Apply To The Academy?
There are six steps: knowing the basic requirements applying for a nomination, complete a candidate questionnaire, complete the candidate kit, secure nomination form congressman or other qualifying authorities, and complete testing.
General qualifications include:
- Between 17 but not yet 23 years of age by July 1 of year admitted
- A U.S. citizen at time of enrollment (exception: foreign students nominated by agreement between U.S. and another country)
- Not pregnant or legally obligated to support a child
- An above-average high school or college academic record
- Strong performance on the standardized American College Testing (ACT) Assessment Program Exam or the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT)
- Be in good physical and mental health
- Pass a Medical Exam
- Above-average strength, endurance and agility
- Adequate performance on USAFA Physical Aptitude Exam
What Is Officer Training School?
Air Force Officer Training School prepares selected personnel in the fundamentals of leadership; basic military skills; instills professional ethics; evaluates leadership potential; and commissions those who qualify as second lieutenants in all sixteen basic branches of the Air Force.
How Do I Qualify For OTS?
In general terms, an officer must be a college or university graduate prior to commissioning (except for enlisted soldiers on active duty), is trained by the Air Force to lead and manage, and can voluntarily leave the military if not under any officer service obligation at the time. Officers do not “enlist” in the Air Force and Air Force Reserve in the pure sense of the word, but individuals can compete for an enlistment option to go to Officers Training School to become a commissioned officer. To qualify you must:
- Be a citizen of the United States
- Take the AFOQT
- Pass the Air Force Physical Fitness Test
- Score well on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or the American College Test (ACT)
- Have at least 90 college credits (if currently enlisted)
- Be at least 18 years old and less than 35. Pilots must turn in their applications prior to their 28-1/2 birthday.
- Have a complete physical exam six months prior to application.
Contact an Air Force Recruiter for the latest OTS requirements.
What About Direct Commissions?
As a professional lawyer, engineer, member of the clergy or doctor, you may also qualify for a Direct Commission. Contact a recruiter for more information.
Does The Service Promote Enlistees To The Officer Ranks?
How Do I Become A Pilot?
The Air Force trains pilots through its undergraduate pilot training program. Air Force pilots are generally officers who compete for the pilot training slots. Air Force flight training has strict vision requirements. The vision requirements are 20/50 for pilots and 20/200 for navigators. Vision for both must be correctable to 20/20. Applicants who have a history of Photo Refractive Keratectomy (PRK), Radial Keratotomy (RK), or Laser In-Situ Keratomileusis (LASIK) are ineligible for aviation duty.
What If I’m A Physician Or Dentist?
The Air Force is also seeking qualified health professionals. For more information about medical programs, contact an Air Force recruiter.
Does The Air Force Have Reserve Opportunities?
What Are The Qualifications To Join The Reserve?
You must be between 17 and 35 years old if you have no prior military service. Age requirements for healthcare professionals and those with prior military experience vary. An Air Force Reserve recruiter can answer your age related questions more thoroughly.
Note: If you have previous military service; your adjusted age must be less than 40 years. To get your adjusted age, take your chronological age, subtract actual time of service credit, and the result is your adjusted age. For example, if you are 48, and you have 10 years of creditable service, your adjusted age is 38. In addition, the Air Force looks at your age and amount the total service time you have to make sure the individual can qualify for a 20 year retirement prior to age 60.
What Is A Drill?
This applies to Reserve and Guard duty. Drills are periods of Inactive Duty Training (IDT), under orders, scheduled to augment training. No more than two drills can be performed on one calendar day, and each drill must be at least four hours long. Most units schedule multiple drills over one weekend each month (two drills Saturday and two drills Sunday).
What Training Will I Receive?
Depending on the program, you will receive boot camp and maybe technical training. Weekend or weekday drills are considered training. Active Duty for Training (ADT) is 12 days of active duty with your unit or in an Air Force school and is required annually.
What If I Have Problems Getting Time Off From My Employer To Fulfill My Military Service Obligations?
By law, as a member of the Reserve, you must, upon request, be granted a leave of absence to satisfy a requirement for military training. The Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act requires employers to provide Reservists with time away from their jobs to perform military duty. However, you must notify your employer that you intend to take military leave. You must be reemployed after completion of your military duty and return to your job within a reasonable time. You must be treated as though you had never left employment, including schedule pay raises, promotions or credit for longevity or vacation. Your employer only has to hold a job open for 60 months if you accept voluntary orders. For additional information, see the USAF Home Page.
How Do I Choose My School?
Generally, you can attend any school you qualify for. The results of your ASVAB determine your qualifications.
Is Technical Training Like Boot Camp?
No. This is training for a specialty you have chosen. It may involve work details and duty, but the main focus is on technical and professional training.
Will I Get Paid While In Training?
Yes, you will be paid for every day you serve according to published pay schedules for your pay grade, in addition to any Temporary Duty or travel allowances.
Can I Talk To Someone In The Service Now?
Sure. Visit the Military.com Recruiting Discussion Board.
What Should I Ask My Recruiter?
Recruiters must present an accurate picture of service. You should be aware of all aspects of military. Be sure you fully understand the enlistment contract. You should ask about:
- Details and qualifications for each specialty
- Films or videos about training and duties
- Boot camp
- Length and location of training
- Special enlistment programs
- Overseas assignments, remote and long duty
- Haircut and grooming standards
- Off-duty education and educational benefits
- Guaranteed training programs
Where Do I Get More Information?
Visit the Military.com Uniform Center for details on Military Uniforms.