New Vetting Policies Create Delays, Doubts for U.S. Military Path to Citizenship Under MAVNI Program

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has implemented new background check procedures for nonimmigrants who signed up for military service in exchange for an expedited path to citizenship as part of the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program. These new procedures have created backlogs and lengthy delays, and some applicants have had their pending naturalization applications suspended indefinitely. While the DOD has defended the new policies as necessary for security reasons, critics say the delays deprive applicants of promised benefits and the military of needed personnel.

Background: MAVNI Program

The MAVNI program was implemented in 2009 to recruit nonimmigrants with certain medical or linguistic skills critical to the success of U.S. military operations. Eligible applicants must be legally in the United States, including in nonimmigrant status (except A, B, and G statuses); asylee, refugee, or temporary protected status; or as a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipient. The program allows eligible applicants to bypass the lawful permanent residence (“green card”) process and become U.S. citizens after basic training or commissioning. More than 10,000 individuals have signed up, and many have already become U.S. citizens.

New Vetting Procedures Cause Delays

The DOD extended the MAVNI program in September 2016, but, in doing so, implemented new security screening policies and eligibility criteria. An applicant cannot receive a commission or orders to attend basic training until the security checks are satisfactorily completed. Officials have said the extensive new screening measures are necessary to counter identified threats. The measures, however, have created a backlog of more than 4,000 applicants, including approximately 1,000 whose lawful status in the United States has expired. Even applicants scheduled for naturalization have been affected, as the new policies have stalled all progress on pending cases. Furthermore, the military cannot use the medical and linguistic skills for which these applicants were recruited until the security screening is completed.


The MAVNI program has successfully recruited nonimmigrants with critical skills into the U.S. military. In exchange for their service to this country, eligible applicants have an expedited path to U.S. citizenship. Unfortunately, thousands of MAVNI applicants are currently facing lengthy delays and an uncertain future due to new security screening policies.


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