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Army seeks language, medical skills from non-citizens

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Feb. 23, 2009) -- The Army plans to fill shortages in critical language and medical billets with "legally present non-citizens."

Under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest pilot recruiting program -- a Department of Defense-wide initiative -- the Secretary of Defense has authorized the Army to recruit up to 890 individuals who are living legally in the United States but who are not citizens. Through service to the Army, those individuals may be able to earn citizenship.

To participate in the MAVNI program, individuals must possess skills needed to fill billets where the Army has identified shortages. The Army has identified shortages in foreign language skills and specific professional medical skills, said Dr. Naomi Verdugo, who serves as the assistant deputy for recruiting for the assistant secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs.

"We've never, until this program, had a way to access highly educated non-citizens who are here legally but don't have Green Cards," said Verdugo. "We're targeting this group, mainly because they fill two important critical needs: healthcare skills and language and culture skills. That's two groups that are hard for us to get."

With the MAVNI program, the Army is looking for individuals that can speak languages such as Bengali, Hungarian, Lao, Nepalese, Somali, Urdu or Yoruba. In fact, there are 35 different languages the Army is looking for.

To fill medical billets, the Army is looking for pediatricians, family practice doctors, oral surgeons, urologists, plastic surgeons, dentists, microbiologists, and operating room nurses, in addition to nearly 30 other specialties.

Through the MAVNI program, the Army plans to bring in 557 individuals with language skills and 333 individuals with medical skills.

Verdugo said all medical professionals that are brought in under the MAVNI program must be licensed to practice their skill in the United States. All those brought in under MAVNI must also be skilled in English.

The Army will find recruits with language skills through the New York City recruiting battalion only, due to the high level of foreign language speakers in that region. For those with medical skills, the Army will pull from across the United States.

Verdugo said the Army isn't officially advertising the MAVNI program, but expects it to be successful through word of mouth.

"We are kind of expecting them to come in with no advertising for this program," she said. "We are reaching out to immigration attorneys, they will in turn inform their clients. And some hospitals have also expressed interest in helping us to get citizenship for their doctors."

Those brought into the Army under the MAVNI program are entitled to apply for American citizenship, and their applications for citizenship will be expedited. Nevertheless, those that apply for citizenship as a result of service in the Army and are subsequently declined for citizenship, may be subject to dismissal from the Army.

United States laws 10 USC Sec. 504 and 8 USC Sec. 1440 spell out when non-citizens may join the U.S. military and how they may apply for citizenship as a result of that service.

Applicants for the MAVNI program must meet specific criteria before they can be accepted into the Army. For instance, the legality of each applicant will be verified through the Department of Homeland Security before the individual is accepted into the Army. Additionally, each enlistee will be subject to the same stringent background checks and security screenings all Army enlistees undergo.

Applicants to MAVNI must also meet or exceed typical recruiting standards for the Army. For instance, all accepted into the Army through MAVNI must have a high school diploma, score above average -- over 50th percentile -- on the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery, and must not be in need of a waiver for conduct.

The MAVNI program is a pilot program -- which means it is a test. The deadline to declare a desire to participate in the program is Dec. 31. After the pilot program has concluded, the Army and other participating services will track the progress of participants and share that information with the Department of Defense.

"We will be collecting data and outcome measures of how these folks do in the military," Verdugo said. "Every other month we will assess that data to determine what it is telling us. At the end of the one-year pilot, or after we reach the program capacity, we will sit down with DOD and look at what comes next."