MAVNI Program – Citizenship Through the Military

The Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI) is a small, exclusive program that allows foreign nationals to gain expedited citizenship in exchange for military service. Typically, all of the United States military branches require enlistees to be permanent residents of the United States, green card holders, but the MAVNI program allows certain non-immigrants with special health care and language skills to join the military and be eligible for U.S. citizenship without first obtaining a green card.

The program began as a pilot in 2009 and was amended in September of 2016 with additional security reviews and screenings. The additional security measures have effectively placed the MAVNI program on hold and have created uncertainty among future and current MAVNI enlistees about the program’s future.

Qualifications:

To qualify for the MAVNI program a foreign national, at the time of enlistment, must:

(1) Be a refugee, asylee, of temporary protected statutes, or be a member of one of the nonimmigrant categories (E, F, H, I, J, K, L, M, O, P, Q, R, S, T, TC, TD, TN, U, or V);

(2) Have been in one of the above valid status for at least two years, however, it does not have to be the same category as the one held at the time of enlistment;

3) Not have a single absence of more than 90 days from the U.S. during that two year period; and

(4) Be a healthcare professional or expert in key languages.

The MAVNI program is open to individuals who have been granted deferred action by the Department of Homeland Security pursuant to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) process. Their applications will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

  1. Special Skills

To qualify for the MAVNI program a foreign national must be a member of the health care profession or be an expert in a key language. A healthcare applicant must:

(1) Fill medical specialties where the service has a shortfall;

(2) Meet all qualification criteria required for their medical specialty, and the criteria for foreign-trained Defense Department medical personnel recruited under other authorities;

(3) Demonstrate proficiency in English; and

(4) Commit to at least three years of active duty, or six years in the Selected Reserve.

Applicants who are an expert in a key language must:

(1) Possess specific language and culture capabilities in a language critical to the United States Defense Department (full list of languages here);

(2) Demonstrate a language proficiency;

(3) Meet all existing enlistment eligibility criteria; and

(4) Enlist for at least four years of active duty.

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Update on DAPA and Expanded DACA

In November of last year, President Obama announced a series of immigration policy changes.  Many of the changes, relating primarily to employment-based immigration, were uncontroversial and are going forward as planned.  For example, the administrative process for granting permanent residency (“green cards”) for certain workers is being streamlined to avoid backlogs in processing these applications.  In addition, the President directed USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) to issue a memorandum clarifying what types of “specialized knowledge” applicants for L-1B nonimmigrant petitioners need to demonstrate.

Two of the provisions announced in November have met significant opposition.  The first is the expansion of DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.  DACA currently allows non-citizens who were brought to the United States as children, and who meet all other program requirements, to be granted lawful presence in the U.S. for a renewable period of two years.  Being granted DACA allows the recipient to live without fear of removal, and makes work authorization available for the two-year period.  The expansion of DACA would increase the renewable time period of lawful presence to three years.  It also seeks to eliminate the requirement that the candidate be born before June 15, 1981, thereby enlarging the pool of eligible applicants.  It is important to note that under neither form is DACA a grant of lawful permanent residence or “asylum” of any kind.

The Executive Action also created a new program, entitled Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA (initially called Deferred Action for Parental Accountability).  DAPA would also grant lawful presence and eligibility for work authorization for up to three years, but to parents of U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident children.  The qualifying son or daughter must have been born on or before November 20, 2014, when the announcement was made, and the parent must have been continuously present in the United States since before January 1, 2010.  As with DACA, other qualifications apply, including successful completion of a background check.  It is estimated that over four million people qualify to receive DAPA benefits.

The States Respond

Within hours of President Obama’s announcement last November, Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio challenged the President’s plan to defer deportations in a Washington, D.C., federal court, in a case named Arpaio v. Obama. The Washington, D.C. federal court promptly dismissed Sheriff Arpaio’s lawsuit. That decision is currently on appeal.

Shortly thereafter, representatives of 17 states filed a similar case in a Brownsville, Texas, federal court, with 9 other states later joining the lawsuit, in a case named Texas v. United States. The states sought an injunction to stop the implementation of DAPA and the DACA expansion.  Texas based its standing to challenge the policy on the alleged harm the state and its citizens would suffer if DAPA were put into place.  Texas currently uses taxpayer funds to supplement the cost of issuing driver’s licenses.  The theory was that since DAPA would entitle recipients to obtain licenses, Texas would either have to spend millions of dollars subsidizing licenses for non-citizens, or completely restructure their fee system.  The court agreed this was a specific potential harm that qualified the petitioning states the power to bring the suit against the federal government.

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