Pentagon makes major changes to immigrant recruitment program

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The Pentagon on Friday announced that foreign-born troops seeking U.S. citizenship under a recently scrutinized military recruitment program must undergo new security screenings and complete longer enlistments.

The changes came about after security concerns were raised related to the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) pilot program, a way for legal noncitizens to join the military in exchange for expedited citizenship.

“While the Department recognizes the value of expedited U.S. citizenship achieved through military service, it is in the national interest to ensure all current and prospective service members complete security and suitability screening prior to naturalization,” Pentagon officials said in a statement.


Pentagon officials earlier this year considered halting MAVNI, which was started in 2009 to recruit immigrants with urgently needed medical and language skills.

Instead, foreign-born recruits “must complete a background investigation and receive a favorable military security suitability determination (MSSD) prior to entry in the active, reserve, or guard service.”

Previously, recruits were allowed to head to initial military training as long as their background investigation had been initiated and they had cleared all other entry screening requirements.

In addition, the foreign-born troops will not receive expedited citizenship until they have completed 180 consecutive days of active duty service or “one year of satisfactory service in the selected reserve.” 

Troops used to receive a certification of honorable service in order to start expedited naturalization after one day of service.

Troops that are currently serving and already have the certification also face a longer process to citizenship. The Pentagon is revoking their certification until “completion of all security and suitability screening requirements.” 

The changes, which begin immediately, will affect about 10,000 immigrants in the program, mostly in the Army. 

The MAVNI program was the subject of scrutiny last year when officials heightened security screenings for participants.

Then in a July memo to Defense Secretary James Mattis, personnel and intelligence officials recommended canceling the enlistment contracts for the recruits awaiting basic training and then halting the program altogether.

Individuals in the program, the officials said, “may have a higher risk of connections to Foreign Intelligence Services.”

The officials also said the heightened security screenings imposed last year had taxed the Army’s already constrained resources.

The Defense Department froze the MAVNI program to review it.

About 1,800 recruits were awaiting basic training, 1,000 of which had had their visas expire and were at risk of deportation if their enlistment contracts were canceled, according to reports at the time.

In September, Army recruiters canceled hundreds of enlistment contracts for foreign-born recruits, though the Pentagon denied that it had ordered such a cancellation, The Washington Post reported.

Tags James Mattis Mavni Pentagon U.S. military
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