Military hopes to solve recruitment nightmare by appealing to legal immigrants – Washington Examiner

Military hopes to solve recruitment nightmare by appealing to legal immigrants - Washington Examiner

080217 Army Sue Citizenship  photo

The 10 Army reservists who filed the lawsuit were recruited through the Pentagon’s Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, known as MAVNI, which gives fast-track citizenship to legal immigrants who have critical language skills or cultural skills.

has seen early success in signing up green card-holding legal
with the promise of immediate
as a solution to a recruitment nightmare that threatens to cripple its ranks as early as 2025.

“The Biden administration still requires people to have a green card to join the military, but they’re overwhelmed with people who want to join the military and cannot because they don’t have a green card,” said Margaret Stock, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve and author of Immigration Law and the Military: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard.


Facing major recruitment shortfalls this year, the Army and Air Force chose, over the past nine months, to broaden their appeal to legal permanent residents, otherwise known as green-card holders, and partnered with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to guarantee that people who successfully complete basic training will be sworn in as U.S. citizen service members.

Early results indicate it is working and could do even more to benefit the United States if it is further expanded as it was 15 years ago.

In the three months since the Air Force rolled out the initiative, 14 trainees from countries including Jamaica, Mexico, Kenya, Russia, and El Salvador have completed basic training and immediately been naturalized at completion. Approximately 100 more are in basic training, an Air Force spokeswoman told the Washington Examiner.

“Their desire to become citizens exemplifies their commitment and dedication to the United States,” Col. John P. O’Dell, 37th Training Wing vice commander, said in a
. “When we began the partnership with USCIS, we asked all trainees who would be interested in starting their application, and 111 raised their hands. These trainees volunteered to serve a country they aren’t yet citizens of, and now we get to formally recognize them upon their graduation as American Airmen.”


How we got here

Military recruitment has tanked as young adults see less appeal in the mission, cannot meet entry requirements, and are turned off by what they hear in this political climate, Stock said.

“People on the Left, extreme Left, say that people shouldn’t join the military. And they tell immigrants that they’re going to be victims in the military and the military is a terrible place if you’re different at all and it’s basically a haven for white supremacists,” Stock said. “On the right wing, they’re attacking the military for letting people in who aren’t American-born.”

The U.S. has a nearly 250-year-long history of allowing newly arrived immigrants to fight alongside Americans.

“Up until 2006, in wartime, U.S. law allowed the military to recruit anybody who was in the country — Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War,” Stock said. “If they were male and they were in the country and of draft age, they got drafted.”

When the problem started

Following Vietnam, the Pentagon required a green card for noncitizens. The number of green-card recruits and, in turn, total new recruits in the military started to drop off because the length of time it took for legal immigrants to obtain a green card grew. As a result, the percentage of immigrants in the military slipped below the percentage of immigrants across the U.S. population.

The lack of immigrants in the military had an impact on national security. The terrorist attacks on 9/11 could have possibly been thwarted through military intercepts; only the military had lacked the staff for those jobs, Stock said.

The Bush administration tapped Stock, an officer at West Point at the time, to fix the problem in the years after the attacks. The Army commissioned Stock to write a predictive paper about the state of recruiting in 2025, and in 2015, she presented the current shortfall in recruitment.

The problem for immigrants who wanted to obtain green cards was that the process took years to navigate. By granting immigrants in good standing who passed a plethora of background checks to become citizens, people who wanted to join but could not have were finally eligible.

Solving the problem

Tasked with coming up with a solution, Stock proposed opening up recruitment to immigrants who did not have a green card. The Department of Defense has the legal authority to recruit people without green cards and bestow expedited citizenship during times of war.

Then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates authorized the pilot program, and the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest, or MAVNI, program was born. In a few years, it added 15,000 service members.

Stock said people applied in droves. Recruits were “mostly people with bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, Ph.D.s, professional workers, kind of the cream of the crop [compared to the typical American-born recruit],” Stock said.

Service members who did not serve honorably for five years risked losing their citizenship. Immigrant recruits had “fewer behavioral problems” than native-born Americans and were less likely to drop out, she said.

But the Obama administration did not view the program favorably and walked it back to no longer allow legal immigrants without green cards to join the military.

Where to go now

Illegal immigrants who overstay a visa or are released into the U.S. after crossing the land border illegally are not and have not previously been recruited, Stock said.

The potential to boost recruitment by reopening this mechanism to allow recruits to gain citizenship upon basic training completion was a good start, but more must be done to meet the curve, she said.

“They’re still going to have mission failure because it’s too hard to get a green card,” Stock said. “There is a movement in Congress now, which I’m hoping will be successful, to give people green cards if they join the military. That would solve the military’s recruiting problems.”


She said she was contacted recently about how women who had served in the Afghan Special Forces and are now in the U.S. in 2021 could enlist.

“They speak English. They’re here legally, but they don’t have green cards, and they’re not going to get green cards for years because there is no process for getting them a green card quickly,” Stock said. “So they can’t join the military.”

Mike Brest contributed to this report.