Do You Get Citizenship If You Join the Army?

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on August 22, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The quick answer is you can, but it's now quicker to use the standard naturalization route.

After September 11, 2001, President Bush signed the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program into order. This is a program that helps recruit security-cleared foreign born individuals into the U.S. Military who have foreign language skills and medical expertise by promising them expedited naturalization. MAVNI was enacted after it was discovered that there weren't enough native-born citizens who possessed these skills. Had there been, the military may have been able to prevent the 9/11 terror attacks, since intercepts had been received but couldn't be interpreted.

MAVNI Expedited Naturalization Process

Naturalization through standard channels usually takes three to five years. However, through MAVNI, it often took only one year. The basic requirements to receive naturalization through MAVNI are the same as standard naturalization requirements except that, during this current "period of hostility" applicants:

  • Need to serve honorably in active-duty reserve, or guard regimes, for any amount of time, or if separated from the US armed forces, has been separated honorably.
  • Must be admitted as a permanent resident at any time after enlistment or induction, or physically present in the US or certain territories at the time of enlistment or induction.

There's More Than One Way to Skin a Cat

Fast forward to October 13, 2017. The Trump Administration's State Department made two modification to MAVNI, and in so doing, nullified its practicality without having to go through the necessary legal channels. The two new modifications were:

  • All lawful permanent residents must complete an extensive background check before entering the active, reserve, or guard service.
  • At least six continuous months of active-duty service, or one year of reserve duty, prior to applying, as opposed to serving only one day.

Though these modifications may seem minor, they aren't. The new background check is so extensive that few pass. In addition, given the new requirements for term of service prior to application, when coupled with the time it takes to do the new background check, it would be quicker to go through the regular channels of naturalization.

These changes had their intended effect. Less foreign-born citizens are entering the military. And thousands of those brought into the military through MAVNI had their enlistment contracts terminated, including one astronaut in the NASA program. Since 2009, over 10,000 immigrants had enlisted in the military, which incidentally coincides with a period of marked decrease in American enlistment. Now that number is near zero. The other number that is zero - the number of MAVNI recruits that have been charged with terrorism. As a consequence, many question the validity of these new requirements.

If you or someone you love is experiencing immigration issues due to the new requirements of the MAVNI program, or for any reason, contact a local immigration attorney who can help you navigate legal landmines and work with you to find the best solution to your citizenship issues.

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