In the face of recruitment shortages, the United States military has turned to offering citizenship to immigrants willing to serve their country in uniform. While the U.S. military has long been an avenue for immigrants to obtain citizenship, the current program aims to expand that avenue while also helping to address recruitment shortfalls.
The Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program began in 2009 as a pilot program temporarily allowing recruiting non-citizens with critical language skills and medical training. Since then, the program has been expanded to include a wider array of foreign-born applicants with various skills. These applicants serve in the military while receiving expedited naturalization and citizenship for themselves, as well as for their immediate family members. However, just last year, the Department of Defense suspended the MAVNI program in order to strengthen vetting procedures, leaving many aspiring service members in limbo.
The move comes amidst a recruitment crisis for the U.S. military. The Army alone fell short of it’s recruitment goals last year by about 6,500, partly due to the strong economy and low unemployment rate in the United States. This comes after years of defense budget cuts and troop withdrawals from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, which can make military service less appealing to potential recruits.
The U.S. military has been heavily depending on non-citizens to fill certain roles. According to the data, in 2016 alone, 10,400 non-U.S. citizens enlisted in the U.S. military, making up about 4% of all new enlistees. Many of these non-citizens come from Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Philippines, and speak languages that are in high demand by the military.
However, the program has come under some scrutiny as of late. The Trump administration has been critical of the initial MAVNI program, and the current suspension will make it harder for immigrants who may want to enlist. Opponents fear the program allows to subvert the standard citizenship process, put national security at risk, and even create an entry point for espionage.
Nevertheless, the program is a crucial failsafe for the military in times of recruitment shortfall. It provides a path to citizenship for individuals who may otherwise never have the opportunity while affording an invaluable service to the country. Additionally, it gives the military the language and technical skills vital to success in the ever-changing conflicts around the globe, making the program win-win for all involved.