With political, economic and social strife prevalent in all corners of the world, the United States military will continue to be a necessary tool in keeping global peace and fighting for those who cannot defend themselves. To promote its efforts to attract quality and soldiers of diverse backgrounds, the U.S. Army has utilized a little-known incentive to immigrants, called Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI), which offers a fast track to citizenship and the opportunity to establish a life here in the U.S.
Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) is a special recruiting program that is available to some immigrants interested in joining the U.S. military. Generally, immigrants must be lawful permanent residents to join the military; once enlisted these green card soldiers can take advantage of expedited citizenship. However, MAVNI allows certain non-citizens in the United States, who are not “green card” holders, to join the military and thereby gain eligibility for U.S. citizenship without first having to go through the lengthy process of obtaining a green card. The MAVNI program began in 2008 and remains a pilot program with a strict annual cap of 1,500 participants. Recently, the program was extended through fiscal year 2016 (September 30, 2016).
To be eligible for consideration, applicants must be in one of the following temporary nonimmigrant categories at the time of their enlistment. The non-immigrant categories include E, F, H, I, J, K, L, M, O, P, Q, R, S, T, TC, TD, TN, U OR V Asylee, refugee, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Applicants must also have legally resided in the U.S. for a minimum of two years prior to joining the Army (excluding the DACA category) without a single absence from the country lasting longer than 90 days. Finally, the applicant must have a high school diploma, and qualifying scores on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) and a proficiency test in the applicant’s native language.
In return for their service, those who successfully participate in the program can apply for U.S. citizenship on an expedited basis. Instead of waiting years to become naturalized, a MAVNI immigrant can get U.S. citizenship in six months or less. In many cases, recruits can acquire their citizenship after completing basic training. The military naturalization applicants pay no fees for the application, but they do have a contractual obligation to serve in the military for a minimum of four years active duty for language recruits, or a choice of three years active duty or six years select reserve for medical recruits. All MAVNI recruits have an eight-year contractual commitment to the military, including non-active service, and the naturalization can be revoked if an applicant does not serve at least five years.
Since the program was launched in 2009, mostly foreigners on student- or employment-based visas have enlisted. Many have served as interpreters on military missions or helped address shortages of health professionals, such as dentists. They also have trained other soldiers in language and culture. Late last year, Mavni opened to young immigrants illegally in the U.S. who have received a deportation reprieve. This group of people, who mostly arrived to the United States as children, have benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which President Barack Obama launched in 2012.
This program could be useful to J-1 visa physicians who have been in the U.S. for two years and have a medical license but still have to fulfill the two-year home residence requirement. Such physicians could use the military service to satisfy the residence requirement. Other medical professionals also might be able to satisfy requirements with their service.
The push for more talented immigrants in the military grew out of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Pentagon found itself short on translators, cultural experts and medical personnel who spoke critical languages needed on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. With a growing immigrant population and an increased need for military personnel throughout the world, this program will continue to be an asset to the U.S. and provide a benefit for those who are willing to serve in this capacity to protect the U.S.
If you or someone you know may qualify for Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI), please visit our Immigration 101 page or contact Managing Partner Michael Wildes, Esq. at [email protected]
* 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. 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. Mr. Wildes is a former Federal Prosecutor with the United States Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn (1989-1993). Mr. Wildes has testified on Capitol Hill in connection with anti-terrorism legislation and is internationally renowned for his successful representation of several defectors who have provided difficult-to-obtain national security information. He is frequently a legal commentator/analyst for network television. He is also an adjunct professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York where he teaches Business Immigration Law. From 2004 through 2010, Mr. Wildes also served as mayor of Englewood, New Jersey—where he resides. 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, Esq.