Immigration Law

Noncitizens in the U.S. Military: Navigating National Security Concerns and Recruitment Needs

Muzaffar Chishti, Austin Rose, and Stephen Yale-Loehr, May 2019

"Noncitizens have a long history of serving in the U.S. military, and in many periods, the promise of expedited naturalization has been used to encourage them to do so. More than 760,000 noncitizens have enlisted and obtained U.S. citizenship over the past century, with peaks during the World Wars and a smaller uptick since September 11, 2001.

Yet in recent years, Congress and the Defense Department have raised vetting requirements and changed training and naturalization timelines for noncitizen recruits, citing national security concerns. Such concerns are nothing new, but past military policies have generally reflected the view that national security is better served by having a fully staffed and highly skilled fighting force than by keeping noncitizens out.

This policy brief puts these recent changes into context, offering both a historical look at noncitizens in the U.S. military and analysis of how they could help meet modern recruitment needs. Among other things, the brief looks at the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program, through which more than 10,000 noncitizens with in-demand skills have entered the military since 2008 and before recent policies effectively halted the program. The brief also discusses approaches policymakers could take to balance security concerns with the potential benefits of allowing noncitizens with key linguistic, cultural, health-care, and cyber skills to serve in the armed forces."