Two weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Defense unveiled a new policy that will give certain undocumented foreign nationals the opportunity to enlist in the U.S. military. This is the first time in several decades that this immigrant population will be allowed to join the military. The policy is actually an extension of an existing program called Military Accessions in the National Interest, more commonly referred to as MAVNI.
The MAVNI Program
The purpose of the MAVNI program is to authorize military recruiters to specifically target and attract foreign nationals who possess skills that are in high demand, such as an expertise in a rare foreign language or specialized training in medicine.
Foreign nationals have historically been highly interested in participating in this program because it can lead quickly and directly to U.S. citizenship, allowing MAVNI participants to completely bypass the normal requirement that a foreign national first become a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) for a specific amount of time before applying for citizenship.
The military also recruits green card holders to participate in its many critical language programs, and many of these recruits make a lifetime career of U.S. military service. It is estimated that more than 92,000 foreign national service members have become U.S. citizens since 2001.
The New Changes to the MAVNI Program
Previously, in order to qualify for participation in MAVNI, the foreign national was required to be legally present in the United States. Now, the MAVNI program will be expanded to allow foreign nationals who are in the U.S. without authorization, but who came to the U.S. before reaching the age of 16, to participate in the program. To do so, the foreign national must also be approved under the President’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which is commonly referred to as DACA. Since DACA benefits are only awarded after a security and criminal background check have been cleared, the undocumented foreign nationals who stand to benefit from MAVNI do not pose a security threat to the United States.
Limitations of the MAVNI Program
The program has an annual limit of 1,500 participants every year. Since there are an estimated 1 to 2 million undocumented foreign nationals in the U.S., the changes to the MAVNI program will clearly not help all of these nationals become U.S. citizens. Additionally, the recruiters typically target nationals who possess skills in languages that the U.S. government considers critical to national security, such as Chinese, Persian, Arabic, or Pashto. Since DACA beneficiaries have been in the U.S. since they were young children, and presumably speaking, reading, and writing in English, it is difficult to project how many of them still possess the required proficiency in their native language that would qualify them for the MAVNI program.
It has been suggested that the Department of Defense’s new policy to expand MAVNI is just the first phase in the Obama Administration’s broader effort to increase or expand the opportunities for foreign nationals to become U.S. citizens.
Additional Blog Posts
What Immigrants Need to Know About the Government Shutdown, ImmigRantings, October 10, 2013
Problems with the H-1B visa: From Work Horse to Show Pony, ImmigRantings, February 13, 2012