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Migration Policy Institute Releases Comprehensive Data on Foreign Born Serving in the U.S. Armed Forces

Press Release
Monday, July 7, 2003

Migration Policy Institute Releases Comprehensive Data on Foreign Born Serving in the U.S. Armed Forces

Washington, D.C. (July 07, 2003) – With United States troops still deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq and now possibly Liberia, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), the nation’s leading think tank dedicated to studying the movement of people worldwide, releases comprehensive data on the foreign born serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

“The data show that many of the largest immigrant groups serving in the U.S. military represent countries where the United States has had long-term military presence, such as the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, and Germany,” says Elizabeth Grieco, data manager for MPI’s Migration Information Source. “The higher participation rates of foreign-born groups from countries such as Mexico and Jamaica are probably due to the proximity of those countries to the United States. Traditionally, immigrants join the military for the opportunity to learn a trade, to gain work experience, and as a way to advance economically.”  

The data indicate that more than 68,000 immigrants now serve in the U.S. armed forces, which is just under 5 percent of the 1.4 million men and women on active duty. More than half are naturalized citizens, meaning though they were born outside of the United States, they are now U.S. citizens. 

Fifteen countries with largest number of immigrants on active duty in the U.S. armed forces: April 2003
  Total   Naturalized citizen   Non-citizen  
Immigrant Group Number Percent of group Number Percent of group Number Percent of group
TOTAL 68,826 100.0 35,211 51.2 33,615 48.8
Philippines 17,373 25.2 10,548 60.7 6,825 39.3
Mexico 6,994 10.2 2,618 37.4 4,376 62.6
Jamaica 4,091 5.9 1,818 44.4 2,273 55.6
Republic of Korea 2,227 3.2 1,560 70.0 667 300
Dominican Republic 2,031 3.0 883 41.0 1,198 59.0
Colombia 1,613 2.3 749 46.4 864 53.6
Trinidad and Tobago 1,488 2.2 672 45.2 816 53.6
El Salvador 1,473 2.1 519 35.2 954 64.8
Vietnam 1,446 2.1 986 68.2 460 31.8
Haiti 1,410 2.0 434 30.8 976 69.2
Germany 1,188 1.7 924 77.8 264 22.2
United Kingdom 1,089 1.6 758 69.6 331 30.4
Guyana 1,088 1.6 552 50.7 536 49.3
Peru 1,021 1.5 386 37.8 635 62.2
Panama 1,017 1.5 714 70.2 303 29.8

“Immigrants have served in the U.S. armed forces throughout the history of this country, so the foreign born in the military is not a new phenomenon,” says Demetrios G. Papademetriou, co-director of MPI. “In fact, during the Civil War, approximately 25 percent of the Union and 9 percent of the Confederate armies were foreign-born soldiers. Comparatively, the number of foreign born now on active military duty is quite small.”

Foreign-born members of the U.S. military can apply for U.S. citizenship without the mandatory five-year waiting period. The naturalization process typically takes eight to 10 months from the time an application is submitted until the oath of citizenship is taken.

Percent of total in the armed forces (active duty) who are foreign born, by service, for the United States: April, 2003
Service Percent
Navy 7.6
Marine Corps 4.6
Army 3.7
Air Force 3.7