US Army MAVNI Program Allows Non-Immigrants to Get Citizenship Quickly
By: John Nicholas Mandalakas*
Despite the difficulties that civilian business face in securing visas for much needed foreign employees with special skills (STEM or otherwise), military outfits are having no problems. This is due to a program called MAVNI (Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest), which allows for foreign nationals holding virtually any US visa in current status to enroll in the military provided that they have critically important skills. This program is truly a schadenfreude.
Speakers of many lesser spoken languages such as Igbo, Moro, or Hausa are eligible as well as more commonly spoken languages like French – provided you come from an African country. Health care professionals able to serve as nurses or physicians are also eligible.
The irony of the program is that the same issue that faces private corporations searching for STEM employees– that is the great American scientist shortage – is faced by the military. They badly need people with critical skills, and for whatever reason our society cannot supply it, so they have to source from immigrants (and non immigrant foreign nationals). The difference between civilian and military though, is that one gets the benefit of having the commander-in-chief on their side.
Legal precedent for this program has existed for at least a century, with an argument that it may have since even longer. As stated in a Secretary of Defense release about MAVNI, “Non-citizens have served in the military since the Revolutionary War.” Though, that seems a bit ambiguous since pretty much everyone had to be a non-citizen when there was not yet a country. Regardless, similar programs during WWII helped bring much needed Filipino sailors into the US Navy from the Philippines.
Today, France still retains their Foreign Legion which is a military unit almost entirely composed of non-citizens. (The unit supposedly also provides false identities to fugitives but that’s another matter entirely). Askaris, (Swahili for soldier), for example, were African or Middle Eastern soldiers who were enlisted into European Armies during times of war. Spain, Austria, and Great Britain also had similar military branches for non citizens.
My own family would not be here today without this legal precedent. My Uncle John Papalos, the first American citizen on the Greek side of my family, was drafted during the Korean War. He served as a non-citizen and was later naturalized.
In any case, Executive order 13269 was signed by George Bush following the declaration of the War on Terror, which brought MAVNI into existence, the first time for a program of this nature since the Vietnam War. Since that point the program has been continuously extended and is now slated to end at some point in 2014, but last month this program became more widely known and advertised.
Amazingly MAVNI allows holders of virtually any visa to enlist, provided they are legal aliens. This means you theoretically could be in the US on a nonimmigrant student visa, quit school, enlist, and receive expedited citizenship. The categories of asylee, refugee, and temporary protected status were also included. The only requirement is that you hold the status for two years. MAVNI program expedites citizenship by circumventing the need for lawful permanent resident. That is, you do not need a green card.
The continued existence of these programs truly attests to the heterogeneous nature of our society. There are often needs that cannot be met by American citizens alone, and if one truly wishes to serve America, then rewarded commensurately. It should be noted however, that the existence of this program highlights a true need for human capital from outside of our current labor pool. While it’s great that the military recognizes this, it is time that similar legislation applying to society in general is passed. The immigration system is in dire need of a revamp that can increase visas for STEM, temporary agriculture and low wage service jobs – all industries that are in high demand of human capital. And the best place to find it is in the huge number waiting in line to come to the US. Thus, I urge the government to use and enlarge this program.
*John Nicholas Mandalakas is an Intern at Beach-Oswald Immigration Law Associates, P.C.