The Cat’s Outta the Bag! Another Path to US Citizenship

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Psst!  There are only a few strings attached, including service in the military of the world’s leading host of international students.  For the few, the proud, the international health care professionals proficient in certain languages with associated cultural backgrounds.

It’s no secret that a significant percentage of international students remain in the US to work and that many of those eventually emigrate – to the benefit of their host country.  The reasons vary; some find the perfect job while others fall in love with a US citizen.  (Others pay for an arranged marriage.)  The usual path to a green card and then citizenship, if desired, is to go from a F-1 (student) visa to a H-1B (work) visa to a green card or from a F-1 to a green card, in the case of marriage.

Here’s another less orthodox way to become a naturalized US citizen that I bet you’ve never heard of.  I stumbled upon this unique path to citizenship while perusing Study in the States, a  Homeland Security-sponsored website:  serve in the military of your future adopted country.  Since the US always seems to be in a state of permanent war and the military is by the far the most generously funded and fawned over area of government, this sounds like a promising option for eligible students.  The key word here is “eligible.”  Here’s the information from the horse’s mouth:

Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) allows certain non-citizens who are legally present in the United States to join the U.S. military and apply immediately for U.S. citizenship using Form N-400, “Application for Naturalization,”   without first obtaining lawful permanent residence. The program is only available to legal aliens holding critical skills – physicians, nurses and experts in certain languages with associated cultural backgrounds.

Who can apply for MAVNI?

MAVNI is only available to legal aliens holding one of the following critical skills:

Physicians/Nurses may enlist for a minimum of three years of active duty or six years in the U.S. Army Reserve as a health care professional

Experts in certain languages with associated cultural backgrounds may enlist as a language recruit for at least four years of active duty.

What languages qualify for the MAVNI application?

Albanian, Amharic, Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bengali, Burmese, Cambodian-Khmer, Cebuano, Chinese, Czech, French (limited to individuals possessing citizenship from an African country), Haitian-Creole, Hausa, Hindi, Hungarian, Igbo, Indonesian, Korean, Kurdish, Lao, Malay, Malayalam, Moro, Nepalese, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Pushtu (aka Pashto), Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Sindhi, Sinhalese, Somali, Swahili, Tagalog, Tajik, Tamil, Thai, Turkish, Turkmen, Urdu, Uzbek, Yoruba

You’ll note that Vietnamese is conspicuously absent, which is probably a good thing.

How does MAVNI lead to citizenship?

Enlisted persons under MAVNI are eligible to apply for naturalization due to the wartime enlistment statute of 2002 (8 USC 1440, INA 329) and Executive Order 13269, without any minimum period of military service. The U.S.military requires MAVNI enlistees to apply for naturalization. However,this does not guarantee citizenship.

This F and M Students and MAVNI Guide for Designated School Officials (PDF) provides detailed information for those who are really interested.

So why is the US government outsourcing these jobs to certain non-citizens who are legally present in the United States?  Because, as in other areas, there are not enough qualified US Americans to fill them.  For many, citizenship is a compelling carrot.  While I can’t vouch for the “experts in certain languages with associated cultural backgrounds,”  my guess is that the health care professionals will most likely complete their service without losing a limb, their mind or their life.

My heartfelt wish is that all of this linguistic and cultural expertise would actually increase understanding of other cultures and societies and thus reduce the level of conflict but, since I wasn’t born yesterday, I realize that’s not how the unholy trinity of ideology, policy and practice work.


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