Naturalization Ceremony: Innovating the Process, Improving the Results

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Leon Redfern
  • 35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Applying for citizenship in the military, especially when stationed overseas, can be a grueling and extensive process. Many U.S. military service members and families dedicate large amounts of time, money and energy while trying to gain citizenship in the U.S.

The 35th Fighter Wing Legal Office, colloquially known as the Legal Weasels, implemented a new approach to make this process less burdensome for service members and their families during a naturalization ceremony hosted at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Nov. 17, 2021.

This ceremony is especially important to Tech. Sgt. Raymond Madayag, 35th Operations Medical Readiness Squadron, Bioenvironmental Flight noncommissioned officer in charge (NCOIC), because his spouse, Mrs. Maureen Madayag, officially became a citizen of the United States.

Usually conducted by the U.S. Department of State and the United States Customs and Immigrations Services (USCIS) in the U.S. Embassy Tokyo, naturalization ceremonies require applicants to travel long hours multiple times throughout the citizen application process that can take up to five years to complete.

With COVID-19, this process became more delayed. Taking an approach sought after by many other organizations, the Legal Weasels made the effort to bring this capability to Misawa Air Base.

“One of the side effects from COVID is finding workarounds to situations; past members from Misawa would have to travel multiple times down to Tokyo to meet with the State Department to become U.S. citizens,” said U.S. Air Force Lt Col. Adam Olsen, 35th FW Legal Office staff judge advocate. “To prevent what we deemed as unnecessary travel, especially during a pandemic, we decided to partner with the Navy, who have a similar citizenship process, to bring the capabilities to conduct the ceremony remotely and legally on base.”

The 35th FW Legal Office successfully conducted the naturalization ceremony virtually at Misawa, ultimately saving future families like Mrs. Madayag’s, time and money.
“After implementing this new virtual process, the Legal Office now serves as the liaison between the USCIS and the member applying for citizenship, allowing interviews to be conducted virtually with no trips required,” said Olsen. “This saves travel costs, travel time, hotel stays and all the other expenses, calculating to save families over $2,000 and four to six duty days.”

Now, the 35th FW Legal Office is able to receive and coordinate completion of the required forms, schedule interviews between the member and USCIS, accept delivery of the official certificates, conduct the ceremony in the courtroom and ensure delivery of all legal paperwork back to USCIS.

The partnership displayed between the 35th Legal Office and USCIS can be replicated throughout Japan, enabling more military personnel and family members to get naturalized.

“Since this process was set in place, an easier system was created for members on base who want to pursue U.S. citizenship in the future,” said Col. Timothy Murphy, 35th Fighter Wing vice commander. “Our plan is to advertise these capabilities for people in the future, allowing them to be more proactive about the process.”

Mrs. Madayag included that, as a participant of this new program she is glad Misawa has made these new changes, ultimately benefiting members like herself in the future and is excited to start her journey as a U.S citizen.

“Now that I’ve finally gained my citizenship, I consider it one of the biggest accomplishments in my life,” said Mrs. Madayag. “I’ve called the U.S. my home for many years and I can't explain how wonderful it feels knowing all the rights I have as a citizen will never be taken away from me; I am grateful and feel proud that I finally achieved it.”