So, you're interested in joining a foreign military? Foreign military service has a long pedigree in world history, and opportunities remain for non-citizens to join the fighting forces of both Western and non-Western nations.
If you're an American citizen, the task can be accomplished with some work; but you need to be aware of the possible career, legal and citizenship implications if you do.
For non-Americans, serving in the American military can be a road to citizenship and a powerful way of demonstrating your commitment to your new home.
In either case, valuable education or experience you may have accumulated prior to service, such as specialised technical skills, an advanced university degree or prior physical or survival training, will likely stand you in good stead during the application process and can make you a highly desirable candidate.
- Skill level:
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Things you need
- Documentation of citizenship and identity
- Valid passport
You'll need good paperwork so that your identity and background can be verified by the foreign military. Assemble valid original documentation of your place of birth, your citizenship, identity documents and your current passport. Keep at least one copy of each in a safe location in case there is a problem or a need for re-issuance.
Clarify your status, your rights and your obligations. Remember, if you're a citizen of a foreign country and have lived in America for a long time, or have only tenuous connections to that foreign country, you may not be obligated to serve. Or you may qualify for a reduced term of service.
In a foreign military you also may not qualify for certain sensitive positions like intelligence or special weapons systems. Your placement can be affected, positively or negatively, by your language skills.
It may help to seek out a military official whom you trust and with whom you can openly discuss your options.
Decide what country you wish to serve in. Research its history, military and the reception it grants to foreigners.
If you're looking to voluntarily serve abroad, you'll have a number of options. See the partial list of countries below for an introduction to their service options for foreigners.
Understand the consequences.
Volunteering for a foreign military force is a statement about your personal loyalties and emotional commitments, and it can have legal repercussions.
Citing U.S. law, and the complications that American citizens in foreign uniforms can cause to international relations, the U.S. State Department discourages--but does not forbid--Americans from serving in foreign militaries.
Until a 1967 Supreme Court case (Afroyim v. Rusk), service in a foreign military could lead to immediate termination of American citizenship. Today, however, that is not the case.
In general, if you voluntarily join a foreign military while you are overseas and without any intention of relinquishing your U.S. citizenship, your U.S. citizenship is not at risk. And if you are conscripted into the foreign military as a legal consequence of your citizenship or residency in the foreign country, your U.S. citizenship is not at risk.
However, there is an important exception: If the military you join is engaged, or likely to engage, in hostilities against the U.S., your service may be viewed as an ipso facto indication of your desire to relinquish U.S. citizenship. A military that is engaged in hostilities with close American allies may present similar difficulties.
Remember that following service in a foreign military it may be more difficult to apply for a job with the U.S. government, especially in sensitive or high-security positions like intelligence work or the military. Jobs with American companies working on certain sophisticated technologies could also become inaccessible.
This step is a long one because the consequences can be many--it's important that you have a full understanding of them before you proceed, and you should speak to an expert as well as people who have completed their own foreign military service about the details, benefits and risks.
Learn the language. Some militaries have special language training courses that foreign soldiers can complete before their actual training begins.
If the military you're joining doesn't have such a program, ensure that your foreign language competence is at least up to a good conversational level before you enlist.
The Australian Defence Force (ADF) is undermanned and actively seeking new members.
It is eager to recruit non-citizens and current non-residents who have prior military experience. It is also looking to recruit Australian Permanent Residents without prior military experience. In both cases ADF service can accelerate one's Australian citizenship process.
However, persons who are not citizens or Permanent Residents of Australia and who lack prior military service are not eligible to serve.
The French Foreign Legion is one of the oldest military units to actively seek foreign recruits.
After three years of Legion service, a Legionnaire may apply for French citizenship.
Legion units are currently deployed in South America, East Africa, West Africa and Afghanistan, among other locations.
The Israel Defense Force (IDF) has inducted foreign volunteers, both Jewish and non-Jewish, for more than six decades.
The IDF's enlistment track for foreign volunteers is called "Mahal" and is solely dedicated to assisting foreigners who wish to join the IDF.
Foreign volunteers are eligible for service in both combat and non-combat units.
Tips and warnings
- The above list of countries is NOT all-inclusive. The reality is that many governments enjoy having foreigners serve in their military and may prefer persons with excellent English language skills for certain jobs.
- Having special technical skills can greatly improve your likelihood of being accepted.
- Serving in the military of a country that is hostile to the U.S. can lead to the loss of U.S. citizenship.
- A U.S. citizen remains legally liable for the acts committed while in foreign uniform. If one does something that violates U.S. law (e.g. an attack upon noncombatants) one can be held liable for it in an American court.
- U.S. citizenship is also not a protection against being held liable for the violation of international treaties like the Geneva or Hague Conventions. Not just the U.S., but foreign countries and extranational bodies like the International Criminal Court can prosecute violations of international law.
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