With the recent increase in the number of Koreans enlisting in the U.S. military, the benefits associated with obtaining citizenship are in the spotlight.
In particular, it has been reported that even if there are illegal immigrants or undocumented immigrants in the family, they can apply for permanent residency if invited by the military personnel in the family.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), there is a special benefit for military families called Parole in Place (PIP). The program allows immediate family members of U.S. military personnel to apply for permanent residency even if they smuggled into the United States.
Under the current immigration law, citizens are allowed to sponsor family members who are in the country illegally due to visa expiration, but not those who illegally entered the country. There is an exception for immediate family members of military personnel.
“PIP can be interpreted as ‘right to temporarily stay in the U.S.’, which basically means that even if you were smuggled into the U.S. and lack an official entry record, under certain circumstances, such as through humanitarian protections or specific immigration relief programs, the government may grant you a status that acknowledges your presence in the country,” says Jonathan Park, an immigration lawyer. “It is the best benefit for military personnel who are worried about the status of their immediate family members, and it applies not only to active-duty military personnel but also to families in the ‘Reserve’.”
According to USCIS regulations, immediate family members of veterans (active duty or reserve) are eligible for PIP as long as they were not dishonorably discharged. Also, if the veteran is now deceased, he or she may still be eligible for PIP if a family member is an unauthorized immigrant. The PIP program was created to prevent service members from being distracted from their military duties by concerns about their family’s immigration status and possible deportation.
“Usually, when a permanent resident enlists, citizenship is granted at the end of the 10-week training,” said Kyujin Choi, a U.S. Army recruiter in charge of Koreatown in Los Angeles. “Some Koreans enlist because they want to invite their parents or spouses as soon as possible, but if their family members are in the country illegally, they can also use the PIP program to invite them.”
Meanwhile, according to USCIS, a total of 45,560 people have joined the U.S. military since 2019. The number of enlistments has more than doubled every year since 2020, when the pandemic began. Korean enlistments have also totaled 1,680 over the past five years. Every year, more than 330 Korean nationals (including green card holders) choose to naturalize after joining the U.S. military.
BY YEOL JANG, JUNHAN PARK [email@example.com]