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Pentagon Tightens Process to Citizenship for Enlisted Immigrants

The Pentagon announced last week that it is making changes to the screening process for immigrants looking to enlist in the military and in exchange, gain U.S. citizenship.

Launched in 2009, the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI) program is a special recruiting program open to select immigrants interested in joining the U.S. military. It drew in immigrant recruits with critical skills such as proficiency in foreign languages and knowledge in specialized fields, such as healthcare, among others. In exchange, foreigners granted the promise of expedited naturalization after their service.

At the time it was launched, the MAVNI program quickly drew criticism and raised security concerns, with many questioning the thoroughness of the vetting process and the security risks involved in handing out citizenships to foreign nationals, leading the Obama administration to suspend new applications.

Still, that hasn’t kept the Pentagon from implementing more restrictions.

Effective immediately, foreign nationals who are in the guard, reserve, and active service to receive a certificate of honorable service for citizenship must now comply with the following requirements:

  • Additional security screening procedures and a favorable military security suitability determination (MSSD) before entering service. Green card holders, until this revamp of the recruitment program, were sent to basic training while their mandatory vetting was still ongoing.
  • Complete the military training requirements of the service they are entering or are a member of
  • Complete at least 180 consecutive days of active duty, or at least one year of satisfactory reserve service

Under these changes, immigrant troops will now find it definitely harder to acquire the promised incentive for their military service – citizenship. What’s more, the Trump administration is looking at dismantling the program entirely, putting the fate of thousands of enlisted immigrants in jeopardy.

The flurry of new regulations is leaving foreign troops distraught, with many taken aback by the sudden changes to the processes they expect to go through.

Margaret Stock was integral to the MAVNI’s implementation in 2009. Now, a retired Army officer, she points out in an interview that, “It looks like we’re now afraid of foreigners in the military…If you’re going to be deployed in more than 100 countries to fight a global war, you can’t be afraid of foreigners.”

Like the President, the Pentagon has expressed interest in completely ending the MAVNI program, but has settled with adding regulations for the time being. The MAVNI program has had some notable success stories, such as the case of Sgt. Saral Shrestha, a Nepalese national who won the Army’s Soldier of the Year in 2012. Studies have also shown that many MAVNI recruits outperform regular soldiers in critical fields.

If you, or a loved one, are a foreign national serving in the military and want to know how this will affect your status and road to citizenship, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the legal team of the Lyttle Law Firm. Schedule a consultation with Austin immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle to discuss your options.

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