MAVNI (Military Accessions Vital to National Interest), is a program that was created in 2009 by the Defense Department in order recruit foreign nationals that possess specific skills that are considered valuable to the national interest, such as language and medical skills. In return for their military service, these recruits were offered an expedited path to U.S. citizenship.
The program has had its share of controversy from the start and was eventually shut down in 2016, after the Obama administration opened it up to DACA recipients, allowing them to apply for it. Candidates applying to this program had to be in the U.S. legally, in a status such as international student or asylum seeker, but green card holders would not be eligible to use it to expedite their citizenship process.
As many as 10,000 candidates from different countries in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe were eager to enlist and make the ultimate sacrifice in offering their service to the U.S. Army and Army Reserve. As with all regular recruits, MAVNI applicants had to undergo an extensive background check before they could be cleared for duty. This is where the problems started.
Because of additional scrutiny on these candidates’ background checks was added in 2016, it now may take up to three years for them to get clearance. According to retired Army Reserve Lt. Col. Margaret Stock, most recruits will likely be out of status by the time they are able to start basic training, and therefore ineligible for the program. “They are using this excuse of national security to get rid of people because no one is going to question it,” she said in a Military Times article.
Other candidates who made it into the program, however, are simply being rejected or discharged without any detailed explanation other than they have been deemed unsuitable for service, while others were told that family members abroad make them a security risk, wreaking havoc on their plans for a life in the U.S.
Many of the international student candidates were pursuing Master’s and PhD programs, making them even more valuable assets. Those discharged had signed enlistment contracts and taken the Army Oath. They now fear returning to their home countries, as they could face retaliation for having been in the U.S. military.
According to an NPR article, Maj. Carlos Gleason, “the discharge of these immigrant recruits and reservists comes at a time when the Army needs more soldiers. And the booming economy is making it hard to find those willing to sign up. Adding to the challenge, some 70 percent of young people don’t qualify for military service because of criminal convictions or failure to meet the education or physical requirements. So the Army is being forced to give waivers to recruits, for such things as minor drug charges or physical problems, to boost enlistment of U.S. candidates.”
“The skills that made this program valuable are skills that remain necessary to the military. We are a diverse force that needs cultural and language diversity” said Maj. Carla Gleason, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon.
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