Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest Program


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••• Official Army Photo

The feature article Enlistment Qualification Standards for the US Military states, “In order to join the US Military, you must either be a US citizen, or you must be a legal permanent immigrant, physically living in the United States, with a green card. “ And, generally, that remains true – the recruiting manuals make the same statement.  However…

Back in 2008, the Secretary of Defense authorized a pilot program called Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI), the basis of which was to bring in critically needed language skills – individuals fluent in languages the U.S. military considered critical – and needed health care skills. This program was aimed at non-resident legal immigrants who had been living in the United States legally for at least two years.

The MAVNI program was initiated to enhance military readiness by taking advantage of the federal law.  Title 8 of the US Code covers Aliens and Nationality, and 8 U.S. Code § 1440 – addresses Naturalization through active-duty service in the Armed Forces during World War I, World War II, Korean hostilities, Vietnam hostilities, or other periods of military hostilities (Section 329 of the Immigration and Nationality Act).

As well, Executive Order 13269 – Expedited Naturalization of Aliens and Noncitizen Nationals Serving in an Active-Duty Status During the War on Terrorism (3 July 2002) reads,

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including section 329 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1440) (the ‘‘Act’’), and solely in order to provide expedited naturalization for aliens and noncitizen nationals serving in an active-duty status in the Armed Forces of the United States during the period of the war against terrorists of global reach, it is hereby ordered as follows:

For the purpose of determining qualification for the exception from the usual requirements for naturalization, I designate as a period in which the Armed Forces of the United States were engaged in armed conflict with a hostile foreign force the period beginning on September 11, 2001. Such period will be deemed to terminate on a date designated by future Executive Order. Those persons serving honorably in active-duty status in the Armed Forces of the United States, during the period beginning on September 11, 2001, and terminating on the date to be so designated, are eligible for naturalization in accordance with the statutory exception to the naturalization requirements, as provided in section 329 of the Act.

Nothing contained in this order is intended to affect, nor does it affect, any other power, right, or obligation of the United States, its agencies, officers, employees, or any other person under Federal law or the law of nations.

The aim was to recruit about 333 people with the needed medical/dental skills and up to 557 people with critical foreign language and culture skills.  In return for their service, those enlisting through this program were able to apply for U.S. citizenship on an expedited basis.  While the US Army was the first to implement the program in 2009, the Navy joined the initiative soon after – though as a whole, the US Army was the main participant branch of service.

Healthcare professionals, who enlisted as officers (yes, enlisted as officers – the Army is the only service where individuals must enlist first, before attending Officer Candidate School [OCS]), were required to serve either three years of active duty or six years in the Reserves. Immigrants who enlisted based on their language skills were required to serve for a minimum of four years of active duty.  

Participants who failed to serve their term of service could lose their citizenship - in fact, Citizenship granted as a part of the MANVI program may possibly be revoked if the person was separated from the Armed Forces under other than honorable conditions before the person served honorably for a period of (or periods aggregating) five years.

During that first year, the program was considered pretty much a success – according to the New York Times article Pentagon Reopens Program Allowing Immigrants With Special Skills to Enlist, of that first class of 1,000 immigrants, one-third had a master’s degrees (or higher), and on average they scored 17 points higher (out of the possible 99) on the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB).  As well, there was less attrition (drops from training for various reasons).

In 2012 the MANVI Program [DoD fact sheet, .pdf file] was renewed, expanded, and extended again in 2014.  The program currently has an expiration date of 30 September 2016 unless

  1. all available openings are filled or
  2. the Secretary of Defense extends the cutoff date or
  3. the President of the United States negates the Executive Order that is in effect stating the US is “engaged in armed conflict with a hostile foreign force”.  

The current MANVI program offers enlistment / commissioning opportunities to up to 1,500 legal non-citizens who have skills in a designated foreign language (I’m given to understand that of that total, billets are limited to about 90 per language) for which there is a critical need, or are licensed health care professionals who meet Army standards.  Actually, candidates required to meet a higher standard are in some categories - they must have a high school diploma, score 50 or higher on the Armed Forces Qualification Test and must not require an enlistment waiver for any kind of previous misconduct.

  As well, immigrants recruited for special professions must be practitioners in good standing.

I’ve been told that the program has been approved to be extended into 2014, but have not seen anything official (a .gov or .mil source) regarding the extension, nor anything on if it adds or removes languages to the list, or changes any other requirements.

The Stars and Stripes reported earlier this year that the Pentagon is reviewing a program that allows qualified noncitizens to enlist in the military, and officials say they’ll consider expanding it to cover some who now live in the United States illegally. However, I’m given to understand there is some political resistance to this possibility.