May 19, 2024
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A Little-Known Expedited Path to Citizenship: The MAVNI Program

If you possess a valid temporary US visa and if enlisting in the US Army is a plausible career option for you, you may be eligible for an expedited path to US citizenship. Among the many ways in which a non-citizen may obtain US citizenship, The Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program offers the most expedited process to those who meet the program’s stringent requirements. A successful applicant can become one of approximately 25,000 non-citizens serving on active duty in the United States Armed Forces.

MAVNI authorizes the military services to recruit aliens present in the United States in a legal immigration status, whose skills are “vital to the national interest.” Certain healthcare professionals and experts in certain languages critical to the government are the only categories of eligible individuals. Initially approved by the Department in 2008, the MAVNI program has been extended until the end of Fiscal Year 2016, with a cap of 1,500 total recruits for all Services. As of December 2014, approximately 2,900 people have signed up for the MAVNI program, indicating that there are twice as many applicants as positions available.

As a general rule, aliens who are on the path to becoming US citizens must first obtain green cards and become Lawful Permanent Residents, but the MAVNI program allows a select group of qualified applicants to bypass the green card (permanent residence) process and become US citizens usually within a period of six months or less. The MAVNI program is also an exception to the general rule that an individual must be a US citizen or a lawful permanent resident in order to enlist in the United States Army. Eligibility for the MAVNI program is extended to aliens in the following temporary categories: Asylee, Refugee, holder of Temporary Protected Status, and those holding visa in Nonimmigrant categories E,F, H, I, J, K, L, M, O, P, Q, R, S, T, TC, TD, TN, U or V. An applicant must have been in valid status in one of the abovementioned categories for at least two years immediately prior to enlisting. Also, the applicant must not have been absent from the United States for more than 90 days during the two-year period prior to the date of enlistment.

There are also two program-specific eligibilities: healthcare professionals (such as doctors, dentists, nurses) and individuals with special language skills and cultural backgrounds. The eligibility requirements for healthcare professionals are extremely difficult to meet, because applicants must meet all qualification criteria required for their medical specialty as well as criteria required for foreign-trained Department of Defense medical personnel recruited under other authorities. For this reason, far more individuals apply under the special language skills category. To meet the requirements for the special language skills category, an applicant must demonstrate language proficiency at the 2/2/2 level on the Defense Language Proficiency Test or 2/2 on the Oral Proficiency Interview for one of the 44 eligible languages, which include Albanian, Arabic, Chinese, Czech, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Malay, Punjabi, Russian, Swahili, Thai, and Turkish. (For a complete list of eligible languages, visit the US Department of Defense website at www.defense.gov.)

Since 2009, the program was expanded to include individuals who have received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program which provides temporary protection from deportation to those who arrived in the United States before their 16th birthday and have no legal immigration status. Considering that DACA does not lead to any form of legal immigration status, not even to a green card, it is rather a radical shift in policy that the MAVNI program has been extended to include DACA beneficiaries. There are several problems with the implementation of this expansion, including lack of training of officers who reportedly often are not even aware that the MAVNI program was expanded to include DACA beneficiaries. The MAVNI program’s expansion to include DACA beneficiaries has also been criticized because the program “was set up for people who are legally in [the United States], and had been legal their whole history.” The Department must now redo all the security screenings and retrain recruiters, which will take months, if not years. As of this date, no DACA beneficiary has been reported to have successfully enlisted through the MAVNI program, but many of the 587,000 DACA approved recipients remain hopeful that the MAVNI program will eventually provide the much-anticipated quick path to US citizenship.

* This article is based on information available as of its publication and is not intended to be all-inclusive or to furnish advice in a particular case. We are not responsible for any changes in regulations that may occur subsequent to publication. Please feel free to contact our office for further information and advice.

Michael J. Wildes, is the Managing Partner of Wildes and Weinberg, P.C. Wildes and Weinberg, P.C. has offices in New York, New Jersey and Florida. If you would like to contact Michael Wildes please email him at [email protected] and visit the firm’s website at www.wildeslaw.com.

By Michael J. Wildes

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