To alleviate chronic shortages of physicians, nurses and language experts in the U.S. military, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has authorized a pilot program to temporarily recruit foreign nationals living legally in the U.S. to enlist in the military without first having to obtain lawful permanent residence. This marks the first time in recent history that foreigners without permanent resident status will be able to enlist. The limited pilot program aims to recruit up to 1,000 people and will end on December 31, 2009, or when the 1,000-person target has been reached, whichever comes first.

The U.S. Army, which has been charged with recruiting 890 of the 1,000 allocated slots, started its recruitment campaign this week under the "Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest" (MAVNI) program. The Army will recruit for language experts in New York City, while health care professionals will be recruited nationwide. In connection with the MAVNI program, a new rule was published in the Federal Register yesterday that explicitly provides work authorization for enlistees.

To be eligible under the pilot program, the applicants must have lived legally in the U.S. for at least two years as a refugee, asylee, holder of temporary protected status, or in one of the nonimmigrant visa status categories, such as E, F, H, I, J, K, L, M, O, P, Q, R, S, T, TC, TD, TN, U, or V. Applicants must also have been present in the U.S. for most of those two years with single absences of no more than 90 days. By way of example, an L-2 or F-2 family member or an F-1 student with the necessary medical or language skills can now enlist in the U.S. military.  

One of the significant advantages of enlisting under MAVNI is that foreign nationals can apply for U.S. citizenship immediately, without having to first obtain lawful permanent resident status. Applicants are also exempt from the residency and physical presence requirements that apply to other naturalization applicants. The expedited citizenship provision should greatly benefit many foreign nationals who will save the time and money associated with going through the permanent residence process. J-1 visa holders subject to the two-year foreign home residency requirement will also greatly benefit under this provision, since they can naturalize without having to first meet the home residency requirement. J-1 physicians are typically subject to the two-year home residency requirement, so the MAVNI program could be especially appealing to those doctors that otherwise meet the eligibility criteria. Given that the U.S. military has specifically targeted health care workers as part of its recruitment efforts, the expedited citizenship provision could certainly help them attract more enlistees.

The Army's MAVNI recruits will have to pass an English test and score 50 or higher on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT), which is a higher score than is required for U.S. citizens. Enlistees will be fingerprinted and screened for security clearance. Health care professionals are required to make a commitment of three years of active duty or six years in the Selected Reserve, while enlisted foreign language experts are required to complete four years of active duty. MAVNI applicants who naturalize and enlist for a three- or four-year active duty term must also complete at least one or two years of honorable service in the Individual Ready Reserve, or they may face revocation of their citizenship.  

The start of the recruitment program comes as welcome news to the Army's recruitment centers around the country, as well as to legal nonimmigrants in the U.S. who have previously been unable to serve in the military. The program will provide necessary medical, language and cultural expertise for our armed forces. It is important to remember that this is a pilot program, and eligibility requirements and other provisions are subject to change. It is expected that the Navy and Marine Corps will also partake in the program at some point in the future.  

Foreign national doctors and nurses interested in the MAVNI program can visit the Army's website at www.goarmy.com/info/mavni/healthcare, and persons with language skills can visit www.goarmy.com/info/mavni. We also encourage you to contact any of our immigration attorneys for more information about the program and whether you or one of your family members might be eligible to enlist.