What is MAVNI?

February 5, 2018 9:14 am
by David Jakeman

Immigrants with certain language or medical skills have found a path to US citizenship through the MAVNI program. The program began during the Obama years, but since President Trump’s accession, the program has been suspended for security review. Its future is uncertain, but here’s a quick overview of the program.

MAVNI stands for Military Accessions Vital to National Interest. The military has created a recruiting program designed to allow people to enlist who have special language skills or medical skills. Usually, the armed forces only allow permanent residents or citizens to enlist. However, military officials have recognized that there was a greater need for recruits with proficiency in specific languages or who were medical doctors or nurses, so a special program was created to fill the gaps.

Role of MAVNIs in the Armed Forces

Each branch of the military has its own MAVNI recruits, although the Army has the largest share. Depending on their skill sets, MAVNIs work in a variety of jobs. In the Air Force, MAVNIs will act as interpreters, teach classes to other military members, provide language tutoring, and escort visitors. They attach to other units to provide guidance about local culture and language, helping other military personnel know the culturally appropriate response in certain situations.1

The Navy also uses MAVNI recruits as cultural advisors and has a rigorous training program lasting a year. Recruits first attend boot camp. Next up is Hospital Corpsman Language and Regional Expert Advanced “A” School, followed by Expeditionary Combat Skills. Finally, recruits attend Language and Regional Expert Qualification Training.

In the Army, MAVNIs perform similar jobs that require specific language skills and cultural competence. There are about fifty languages that the military is looking for.

Medical MAVNIs

Language skills are only one area of eligibility for foreign nationals interested in enlisting. The military is also interested in people who have medical training, both doctors and nurses, in areas where there is a shortage, including pediatrics, family medicine, dentistry, oral surgery, internal medicine, psychiatry, general surgery, emergency medicine, and psychology, among others.2

Who is Eligible for MAVNI?

In order to qualify for MAVNI,3 you must have been in the United States in some sort of legal visa status for at least two years before the date of your enlistment. Accepted categories include Temporary Protected Status, asylee, refugee, or any of the following alphabet soup letters: E, F, H, I, J, K, L, M, O, P, Q, R, S, T, TC, TD, TN, U, or V.

In addition, you cannot have been absent from the United States for more than 90 days during the two-year period prior to enlisting.

There is an exception. If you have been granted deferred action under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), you are also eligible to apply for MAVNI, even though you do not have legal status.
You must also be between the ages of 17 and 35.

MAVNI Training

The way the program has traditionally worked, after MAVNI applicants attend basic training, they are eligible to apply for naturalization. This is supposed to be an expedited process, taking less time than naturalization usually takes, usually six months, but in some cases even just a few months. However, during the end of the Obama administration, additional security checks were established, and MAVNI applicants were starting to see a backlog about when they could even start basic training. Now, under the Trump administration, everything has ground to a halt and applicants are stuck in limbo. It remains to be seen what will happen. Even the most seasoned army recruiter or immigration lawyer in Yakima or elsewhere won’t have a definite answer at present.


1 – http://www.afsoc.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/710499/mavnis-rare-breed-in-afsoc-currently-recruiting/
2 – http://jointhemilitary.org/qualify-army-mavni-program/
3 – https://www.defense.gov/news/MAVNI-Fact-Sheet.pdf

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