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Service Not Wanted: MAVNI Program Seems Headed for Oblivion

07/31/18
By:  James Pittman 

Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) was a program that allowed certain foreign nationals who were in the US temporarily, such as through student visas or here as refugees, to join the US Armed Forces if they possessed critical language or medical skills. Most of its participants came from Africa, the Middle East, China, India, and Eastern Europe. Most applicants came from countries for which the U.S. had a need for service members with native-level fluency in certain strategically important foreign languages. The MAVNI program was begun by the Department of Defense in 2009. Over 10,000 military service personnel have come through the program.  In 2016, MAVNI recruits were ordered to undergo additional background screening, this decision by the government effectively froze the program. The last MAVNI recruits entered around October 2016, right after the additional background checks were required. Since then, no additional recruits have joined through MAVNI. The program ceased taking new applicants at the end of 2016. 

The roughly 1,000 applicants in the program before it was frozen have been left in no-man's land, unable to get cleared to move on to active duty. Some of those applicants are now being discharged from service and the remainder of them are also likely to be discharged if background checks are not completed within three years of the date they signed their military service contract. There is no set time period for completion of such background checks.

Moreover, as enrollment in MAVNI by itself does not provide a legal immigration status, some MAVNI recruits who are awaiting the completion of their background investigations may go out of status.  In that case, besides being unable to begin military service as planned, they could be subject to immigration enforcement action against them, up to and including deportation, as their presence in the USA would no longer be considered legal.

It is most unfortunate that the difficulties the government is having with adequately vetting these applicants is leading to the demise of a promising program for attracting talent to the nation's armed forces.

James Pittman is co-founder of Docketwise and was previously engaged in the private practice of US Immigration Law. He also regularly teaches Continuing Legal Education (CLE) classes on immigration law topics and legal ethics. He is admitted to practice in New York and New Jersey and is a graduate of Northeastern University School of Law.