By Margaret D. Stock
Noncitizens who serve honorably in the U.S. military now may be able to naturalize without first obtaining "green cards" or meeting any residency requirements. This is possible through a Pentagon program called "Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest." This piece by Margaret D. Stock, the author of Immigration Law and the Military and an Editorial Board member of Bender's Immigration Bulletin, explains the MAVNI program, highlights its benefits and drawbacks, and offers practice tips for attorneys who represent clients interested in it.Excerpt:Immigration practitioners generally assume that noncitizens cannot naturalize until they have first obtained lawful permanent residence (a "green card") and met lengthy residency requirements. Noncitizens who serve honorably in the United States Armed Forces in wartime may, however, bypass the green card process and naturalize without first obtaining lawful permanent residence or meeting any residency requirements. Typically, however, noncitizens without green cards are not permitted to enlist in the military, even if they otherwise hold a legal immigration status. Five years ago, the Department of Defense instituted a pilot program called "Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest" (MAVNI), in which certain legally present noncitizens without green cards were permitted to enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces and naturalize shortly after enlistment, despite their lack of green cards. The program was suspended temporarily, but then reauthorized in 2012 for a two-year period. The program is currently allowing enlistments and is drawing a high degree of interest from highly educated noncitizens in the United States. This Emerging Issues Analysis explains the MAVNI program, highlights the benefits and drawbacks of the program, and offers practice tips for attorneys who represent clients interested in serving in the U.S. Armed Forces through the MAVNI program.The immigration-related military recruiting program titled "Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest" (MAVNI) was first authorized by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in November 2008, and operated as a one-year pilot program in 2009 and early 2010. Notable persons recruited under the program include Saral Shrestha, a former F-1 student from Nepal who joined the Army in 2009 as a MAVNI, naturalized about ten weeks later, and became the U.S. Army Soldier of the Year in 2012 after winning a national competition, and Augustus Maiyo, an Army soldier and graduate of the University of Alabama who won the 2012 Marine Corps Marathon. After the Fort Hood shooting, a November 2009 tragedy in which a native-born U.S.-citizen Army officer allegedly murdered many of his fellow soldiers, the MAVNI program was temporarily suspended. On May 16, 2012, however, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter signed a memorandum reinstating MAVNI until 2014.
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