Non-Immigrants Who Join Army May Become Citizens

A military program that allows the recruitment of immigrants with skills that are considered critical to the national interest was reopened recently. It allows legal immigrants who are in the United States, even those on temporary visas, to enlist in the military and serve the country.

The lure of the program, despite the obvious risks of being in the Army, is the expedited route to naturalization that it offers. Service members under this program can become U.S. citizens in as short as 10 weeks. Ordinarily, immigrants on temporary visas wait many years to become permanent residents and usually an extra five years to become naturalized citizens.

Under the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI) program, up to 1,500 individuals with certain skills will be recruited per year up to 2014. Health care professionals and experts in certain languages with associated cultural backgrounds are eligible. The program was implemented in 2009 but suspended in 2010.

The military is currently looking to fill medical specialties in which it has a shortfall, which right now includes dentists, surgeons and psychology professionals. Health care professionals must meet all qualification criteria for the medical specialty, demonstrate proficiency in English, and commit to at least 3 years of active duty or 6 years in the Selected Reserve.

The military also seeks native speakers of any of 44 languages with cultural backgrounds. Tagalog and Cebuano are included. Applicants under this category must demonstrate language proficiency, meet all existing enlistment eligibility criteria and enlist for at least 4 years of active duty.

To be eligible for recruitment, the individual must be in valid asylee, refugee, Temporary Protected Status, or nonimmigrant category (including but not limited to F, H, J, K, R, U and V) for at least two years immediately preceding the enlistment date. Applicants who are on a nonimmigrant category must not have had any single absence of more than 90 days during this two-year period.

A pending application for adjustment of status does not render an applicant ineligible. Those who have lost H nonimmigrant status while an adjustment application was pending may still be allowed to enlist on a case-by-case basis.

Applicants must be high school graduates and they must pass an entrance test. Although they have been subject to background and occupational checks for their temporary visas, the reopened MAVNI program will require a new layer of security screenings.

The previous batch of recruits under this program proved to be exceptionally talented. A third of the first class of recruits had at least a master’s degree. Many of the recruits went into the highly select Special Forces unit.

The program became so popular that the military had to turn down thousands of applicants, prompting many of them to sign a petition on Facebook for the reopening of the program.

The U.S. military has a history of recruiting non-citizens for service during a time of national need. In the 1940s, Filipinos were recruited into the Navy after the signing of the Military Bases Agreement, which allowed the U.S. to have military bases in the Philippines. Over 35,000 Filipinos joined the Navy between 1952 and 1991.