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MAVNI’s new face: A Not Quite Expedited Naturalization

The Start of MAVNI

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the question of the hour was: “how could we have prevented this?” As investigations and analysis continued, the Bush administration found a remarkable fact: we were in possession of intercepts from the hijackers, but they were not translated. The obvious conclusion was that in the ranks of those in charge of our national security, there were not enough native-born Americans with the language abilities necessary to do this kind of work. As a response to this major security gap, the Bush administration authorized the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interests program, better known as MAVNI. The program’s creator, retired Lt. Colonel Margaret Stock, had the goal of bringing in “highly vetted legal immigrants if they had language capabilities – native language capabilities – or specialized medical skills”[i]. Through the program, highly-skilled individuals with non-immigrant/Deferred Action legal status were able to apply for Naturalization immediately after basic training [ii]. MAVNI allowed these individuals with critical talents the benefit of forgoing the long and onerous LPR process and gaining Citizenship as a provision (and for the sake) of serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

The eligibility criteria was as follows:

For Health Care Professionals, the applicant had to:
For Enlisted Individuals with Special Language and Culture Backgrounds, the applicant had to:
  • fill medical specialties where the service has a shortfall
  • meet all qualification criteria required for their medical specialty, and the criteria for foreign-trained DoD medical personnel recruited under other authorities
  • demonstrate proficiency in English
  • commit to at least 3 years of active duty, or six years in the Selected Reserve
  • possess specific language and culture capabilities in a language critical to DoD
  • demonstrate a language proficiency
  • meet all existing enlistment eligibility criteria
  • enlist for at least 4 years of active duty

Enlistment and Security

Additionally, after various entry screening requirements, it allowed those enlisted to begin basic training at the same times as the Military conducted its own lengthy background check, the Military Security Suitability Determination (MSSD). Note that prior to starting boot camp, the Foreign National had to “undergo extensive screening by multiple federal agencies, to include the State Department, Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security,” and even after that, some situations requiring more specialized training demanded “additional vetting”[iii]. In its eight year history, MAVNI has enlisted over 10,000 soldiers, amongst them: “a US Olympic silver medalist, a Secret Service officer, a nuclear energy fellow at MIT and the US Army’s 2012 Soldier of the Year”[iv].

Policy Changes

On October 13, 2017, however, MAVNI was essentially altered. The new rules slash (or at least greatly compromise) its original intent of enlisting foreign talent in the military and expediting naturalization for such individuals. The significant changes to the Military’s path to naturalization specify:

  • that the mentioned MSSD be entirely completed before the immigrant candidate can even begin basic training
  • that, to receive a Certification of Honorable Service required for expedited naturalization
    • all initial military training requirements plus “at least 180 days of active duty, or at least one year of satisfactory service in the selected reserve” be completed
  • those who have already received a Certification of Honorable Service “will have that certification recalled and decertified until, at a minimum, screening requirements are complete”[v].

Margaret Stock, while noting the importance of background checks, remarks that when customs and border patrol adopted these types of background checks “they flunked 2/3 of their applicants.” As a security and immigration expert she notes that “the proper way to handle espionage threats is to investigate them, to prosecute people. But what you don’t do is label an entire group of people as security threats just because they were born in a foreign country”[vi]. In light of the recent changes, she advises her own military immigration clients to forgo the military’s new rules for “expedited” naturalization and opt for the civilian path, as it is faster.




[iv] Ibid.


[vi] “Army Tightens Rules For Immigrants Joining As A Path To Citizenship, ” NPR

Photo Credit: Holly Mindrup