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Immigration Law

Needed MAVNI Doctors Sidelined from COVID-19 Battle

Alex Horton, Washington Post, Mar. 25, 2020

"Dozens of immigrant physicians who enlisted through a Pentagon program meant to harness their medical skills are stuck taking out trash and filing paperwork, an immigration attorney said, even as the military mobilizes doctors to fight the growing coronavirus pandemic. Six recruits with relevant training — a pulmonary specialist, an epidemiologist and two internal medicine practitioners, among others — are frustrated that the glacial pace of security checks has slowed their chance to serve at a crucial moment, they told The Washington Post. ... More than 10,000 skilled immigrants entered the military in the last decade, mostly for their linguistic skills. The program shuttered in 2017 amid security concerns and heightened background checks that stalled the process for years. At least several dozen physicians are still waiting for their checks to finish. They busy themselves with menial tasks at their reserve units, where they have limited duties, said retired Army officer Margaret Stock, the architect of the program and an immigration attorney who has represented physician recruits. The military has consistent physician shortages, a 2018 Government Accountability Office report found. “The nation is facing a crisis when we need these people,” Stock said. “It was the point of recruiting them in the first place.” ... The Military Accessions Vital to National Interest [MAVNI] program was championed by Special Operations Command for its stream of language and cultural experts who could aid them in unconventional missions, a Pentagon overview of the program said. It also helped the Army Reserve fill many dental jobs, a vital task because dentists must be available to clear soldiers for combat deployments. By 2017, two-thirds of Army reservist dentists came through the program. But the pipeline closed that year following new stringent regulations and enhanced background checks, leading some to trickle in through thickets of bureaucracy. ... The Defense Department has failed to identify and place talented troops into jobs that harness their abilities, said Paul Scharre, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a former policy analyst at the Pentagon. “The military has done an unequivocally horrible job tapping into skills,” he said. But with MAVNI, “we know adding these people would make a difference.”