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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Students & Cap-Gap Protection

Since 2008 an F-1 student who has a pending H-1B application at the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) to change status from a student to a professionally skilled worker will be able to automatically extend his/her lawful status until October 1 of the fiscal year for which H-1B status is being requested.  The same is true for students who have been granted optional practical training (OPT) and may continue to remain in the United States and work should their OPT expire before October 1.  Those students who have not been granted OPT will have lawful status to remain in the United States but will not be able to work until their H-1B application has been approved.

For this rule to apply the H-1B application must have been properly filed with USCIS, which means the change of status application was filed during the H-1B acceptance period, while the student’s authorized duration of status (D/S) admission was still in effect (including any period of time during the academic course of study, any authorized periods of post-completion OPT, and the 60-day departure preparation period, commonly known as the “grace period”).  An application is generally considered “filed” once it is accepted by USCIS. In the context of the H-1B lottery, the petition may have been submitted on April 1, but it will not be accepted for processing until after the H-1B lottery has been conducted some weeks later. If the H-1B petition is rejected, denied, or revoked, the automatic extension of status and work authorization will immediately terminate.