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Citizenship for Iraqi and Afghani Translators and Interpreters

North Carolina has been one of the few states nationwide to see a growing number of Iraqi and Afghani nationals settle within its borders due to assistance as interpreters and translators to the United States military during activities in these countries. Many of these families and individuals have settled nearby to Raleigh, Durham and Fayetteville due in large part to the close proximity to Ft. Bragg, the U.S. Army base, which is home to the XVIII Airborne Corps, 82nd Airborne Division and the U.S. Army Special Operations Command.

As a result of these growing numbers of families and individuals and their assistance to the United States, USCIS has created a special route for citizenship for individuals that have directly assisted the US military. Pursuant to INA §316, in conjunction with §1059(e) of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2006, Iraqi and Afghani translators and interpreters are considered to have maintained their continuous residence in the United States despite prolonged absences outside of the country, provided that the acted as translators and interpreters on behalf of the United States. Specifically, the act states that an absence from the United States if such absence involved working with the Chief of Mission or United States armed forces as a translator or interpreter "shall not be considered to break any period for which continuous residence in the United States is required for naturalization under Title III of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Until recently, the provision protecting continuous residence only partially helped in qualifying these individuals for citizenship. However, a glaring loophole with this provision was that many of these individuals did not have the necessary physical presence in the United States to qualify for citizenship, as much of their time was spent in Iraq and Afghanistan in their roles aiding US military. However, the recently signed House Bill, H.R. 6223, "amended section 1059(e) of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006 to clarify that a period of employment abroad by the Chief of Mission or United States Armed Forces as a translator, interpreter, or in a security-related position in an executive or managerial capacity is to be counted as a period of residence and physical presence in the United States for purposes of qualifying for naturalization, and for other purposes."

This bill was signed into law by President Obama on 12/28/2012 and now removes a major roadblock to those individuals wanting to apply for naturalization based upon their service to the United States overseas in the role of Iraqi or Afghani interpreter. This new law helps to provide the ultimate immigration benefit for those men and women that were and continue to be willing to assist the United States in these areas of need. Given that it is the office that serves Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and Fayetteville, as well as surrounding areas, USCIS-Durham Field Office is an excellent resource and venue for filing for naturalization, as the officers at this local office have proven very helpful in navigating this process. However, the naturalization process is relatively complex, even for what appears to be the simplest of cases and therefore, obtaining an attorney is likely a smart option, particularly given the uniqueness and newness of these regulations.

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