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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An Introduction to Hardship Waivers

A person may be found to be inadmissible to the United States for many different reasons.  These include three- and ten-year bars for unlawful presence; crimes involving moral turpitude (CIMTs); prostitution; simple possession of less than thirty grams of marijuana; certain medical inadmissibility; and misrepresentation. To overcome such an inadmissibility, an I-601 Waiver will need to be filed.  The primary basis to qualify for an I-601 Waiver is to show “extreme hardship” to a qualifying relative.  In some cases, one may also qualify by showing there has been criminal rehabilitation. If someone had been previously removed from the United States, an I-212 Waiver for prior removal is necessary and is not based only on extreme hardship to a qualifying relative, although such a hardship can be used to strengthen a case.

Sometimes there are complications that result in a waiver not being an option. Some of the worst complications are those that create permanent inadmissibility. These include false claims to U.S. citizenship, drug convictions or guilty pleas after age eighteen, gang memberships, and previous findings of marriage fraud or frivolous asylum. There is very little to be done after a finding was made in a prior immigration proceeding that there was a frivolous asylum claim made after April 1, 1997.  However, in other instances it may be possible to challenge a finding of permanent inadmissibility.  For example, it may actually be possible to show that a finding of marriage fraud was an error, especially if the marriage is still intact. It may be possible to argue that a vague drug crime is not a crime pertaining to possession of a controlled substance. A person who had made a claim to citizenship may have been completely unwilling. A person may truly not be a gang member. These are difficult cases but may be worth pursuing as it may very well be someone’s only opportunity to return to his or her family.

The waiver process changes constantly, as does immigration law itself. If you feel that you or someone you know requires assistance in this area please contact our office.

Naturalization 101

NATURALIZATION AND REMOVAL

When a non-citizen wants to become a United States citizen, that person must undergo a process known as naturalization. There are many benefits in becoming a U.S. citizen. A U.S. citizen can travel more freely; he can vote; and he can apply for more jobs, including government positions. Citizens are more eligible to apply for public benefits such as full Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, food stamps, and have access to certain loans, mortgages and scholarships. Finally, U.S. citizens would not be subject to deportation or removal proceedings.

WHAT IS REQUIRED FOR SOMEONE TO BECOME NATURALIZED?

An immigrant must be older than 18, be a permanent resident for 5 years (or 3 years for those who have gained permanent residency through a U.S. spouse), demonstrate good moral character, prove continuous residence and physical presence in the U.S., and be able to read, write and speak basic English (this last requirement may be waived in certain cases such as if the person has a permanent impairment that prevents them from being able to learn and understand English). In addition, the permanent resident must file an N-400, undergo an interview, pass a civics and ethics test, and take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States.

WHEN IS NATURALIZATION NOT THE BEST OPTION?

Naturalization may not be the best course for every permanent resident. The naturalization application is usually the last time for the immigration officials to review the immigrant’s case and determine both whether the person is eligible to naturalize and whether he is eligible to stay in the United States. Any inconsistencies in the naturalization application, such as evidence of immigration violations, criminal conduct or abandonment of his permanent residence status, may actually subject the immigrant to removal proceedings. Someone who is interested in becoming a U.S. citizen but is not sure of his eligibility should consult with an immigration attorney.

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