By Maggie Brewster, IMCOM Public Affairs

An Army Family Action Plan (AFAP) issue is serving as the catalyst to improve assistance for Family members navigating the citizenship and residency process.

The most recent improvement is a pledge by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to provide fingerprinting services for Family members at installations. Prior to this agreement, Family members applying for citizenship or green cards traveled to the nearest USCIS Application Support Center for fingerprinting.

At Fort Polk, this meant a long 10-hour round trip to Metairie, at the opposite end of Louisiana.

The trips will end as soon as USCIS can arrange for a mobile unit for Fort Polk.

That's good news for Karin K. Spears, Fort Polk's resident citizenship expert. Spears has spent many years at Army Community Service (ACS) helping Families with the citizenship process. She said having USCIS specifically helping military Families has improved the citizenship process for them.

"The process used to take six months to a year, and now it is about four months," Spears said. "The commitment of USCIS to improve service for Families is clearly evident."

Those improvements were initiated in 2008 when USCIS established a direct relationship with the Department of Defense (DoD) to resolve problems. During quarterly meetings with the USCIS and DoD team, the family assistance and outreach initiative took root, said Chris Rhatigan, USCIS public affairs.

Before then, there were a number of complaints and confusion by Family members, who encountered problems with the citizenship and residency application process and vetted their issues through the AFAP program.

AFAP Issue 515 recommended installations designate and train personnel to assist Family members in the citizenship application process, and coordinate with USCIS for approval of DoD-administered fingerprinting and physical examinations.

ACS became the designated place where Families receive support and assistance for citizenship and residency applications.

"We wanted ACS to do for Families with immigration issues what personnel offices have been doing to assist Soldiers," said Bettye Donley, a social service provider with the Family Program Directorate of the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command. As a result of AFAP Issue 515, Army Regulation 608-1, Army Community Service Center, was revised to assign the liaison function within the ACS Relocation Readiness Program, Donley said.

USCIS also has designated specific liaisons to work with each installation, in addition to a number of other improvements for military communities. USCIS outreach services include a military-specific web page, at The site contains pertinent information and educational materials to help the military community understand the immigration process, as well as links to services specifically for the military and their Families.

Information is also available from USCIS Military Help Line at 1-877-CIS-4MIL. The status of an individual case can be tracked on this help line and general information is provided by a customer service representative.

"All of the improvements help Families receive a gift of great value -- the gift of citizenship," Donley said. And ACS is firmly the port from which Families can begin the citizenship journey, said Donley.

The last unresolved concern in AFAP Issue 515 is the legal requirement in the Immigration and Nationality Act that all Family members receive a physical examination as part of the immigration process. Currently, if the Family member is within the United States, the exam can be conducted by a USCIS designated Civil Surgeon. The goal is that eligible Family members will be able to complete the required examination by military physicians designated as Civil Surgeons on installations. The AFAP issue will not close until that concern is resolved.

For more information about the citizenship and residency application process contact the ACS Relocation Readiness Program Manager at your installation.