The 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 and was initiated to enhance military readiness.
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.
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
- all available openings are filled or
- the Secretary of Defense extends the cutoff date or
- 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 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.