For many people, particularly students from China, gaining either a green card or U.S. citizenship can be a long and difficult process. Such a student typically must find a employer who is willing to petition for H-1B status. Then, if the job is H-1B cap-subject, the student must both survive the H-1B lottery and gain approval. The student then might need that employer or a new one to petition for a green card for the student. Even after an immigrant petition is approved, the student might need to wait several years for the actual green card. Then, even after the student gets the green card, he or she might have still another five years to wait before becoming a naturalized U.S citizen.
Getting a green card can take a long time. Become naturalized afterwards takes even longer. As an alternative, therefore, such students might want to consider a program that offers naturalization in exchange for service in one of the U.S. armed forces. The program is called Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI). It seeks people with needed skills to join the U.S. military, and such skills include Chinese language.
This path to citizenship via military service is authorized by section 329 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). According to this section, a person must meet a residency requirement. However, when that when a person enlists or inducted into one of the armed forces while within the U.S., he or she is deemed to have met that requirement. Any such service must be honorable service, and a person who later leaves the armed services must do so via an honorable discharge.According to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), MAVNI participants are naturalized during basic training. This method of naturalization is faster because participants skip getting a green card, and because they are exempted from the continuous residence requirement, which can be as long as five years. This method is less expensive because filing fees are waived. Also, persons in J-1 exchange visitor status can participate in this program as well, even if they otherwise are subject to the two-year home country residence requirement. According to USCIS, any two-year requirement would not apply to those who join the MAVNI program, so that such people need not fulfill the requirement, and need not apply for any waiver, if they were subject to the requirement at all.
Keep in mind that participating in this program involves joining one of the U.S. armed forces, and fulfilling any commitments you have agreed to, for the period of time you agreed to. According to a MAVNI fact sheet, referenced below, the period of commitment for those with a language skill is at least four years of active duty. This program, therefore, might not be right for everyone. However, if you do participate and meet requirements, you possibly could become a U.S. citizen even faster than others who become a permanent resident using the “normal” methods.
- Information on the U.S. Army MAVNI program: http://www.goarmy.com/benefits/additional-incentives/mavni.html
- USCIS web page regarding the military: http://www.uscis.gov/military
- MAVNI fact sheet, from the Department of Defense: http://www.defense.gov/news/mavni-fact-sheet.pdf
Calvin Sun, attorney at law