The U.S. Army has expanded a program that encourages immigrants with certain language and medical skills to enlist by offering them a fast track to U.S. citizenship.
The Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest, known as Mavni, will double to 3,000 enlistments in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, and to 5,000 in fiscal 2016. The program is currently capped at 1,500 recruits.
“The expansion of the program enhances the Army’s ability to accomplish its assigned missions through recruiting highly qualified medical personnel in certain critical specialties as well as individuals with foreign language skills and cultural knowledge and understanding,” said Maj. Gen. Allen Batschelet, commanding general for U.S. Army Recruiting Command.
Typically, participants are sworn in as citizens after completing basic training, without having to first obtain a green card or establish permanent residency, making Mavni the fastest path to U.S. citizenship available.
Since the program 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 in the U.S. illegally who have received a deportation reprieve. Usually brought to the country as children, these immigrants have benefited from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which President Barack Obama launched in 2012.
An Army spokesperson said 43 DACA recipients had enlisted as of April 2, and the first will report to basic training late this year.
Many of the Mavni soldiers speak languages such as Mandarin, Urdu and Arabic. They tend to be older than American recruits, averaging about 26 years of age, and they are more likely to have attended college, according to Army data.
Naomi Verdugo, a senior Army recruiting official, said the program is cost-effective because the recruits are less likely to drop out than others, and that Mavni soldiers score well above average on military-entrance exams.
“In this time of increased global conflict, the U.S. military needs smart and talented people like these immigrants, who continue the proud historical tradition of immigrants serving in America’s Army,” said Margaret Stock, a retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who created the original program.
Immigrants with legal U.S. residency, or a green card, have long been eligible to join the military, but a law passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks allows other immigrants to join if it is in the nation’s vital interest. Mavni applicants must have lived in the U.S. for at least two years, and those who enlist for their language skills must agree to a minimum four years of active duty and four years in the reserves.
Some critics in the past have expressed security concerns about the program. The Army says that applicants undergo extensive background checks.