Guide to the MAVNI Program

Updated on May 4, 2024
At a Glance:
  • The MAVNI (Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest) program is a U.S. military recruitment program for immigrants and non-immigrants.

  • Created in 2008, it allows eligible individuals to join the military and apply for U.S. citizenship without obtaining permanent residency first.

  • The program is designed to recruit individuals with specific skills deemed vital to the national interest, such as language experts or healthcare professionals.

  • Eligibility criteria include age requirements (between 17 and 34), immigration status (Aslyee, Refugee, TPS, or non-immigrant status), and expertise in specific fields.

  • Currently, the program is not accepting new applications, but interested individuals should contact local military recruiting offices for updates.
  • Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) Program is for immigrants who want to pursue U.S. citizenship in exchange for serving in the U.S. military. MAVNI was created by the U.S. Department of Defense, and offers an exceptional opportunity for legal immigrants and non-immigrants to join the U.S. military, apply for U.S. citizenship, and even participate in a limited pilot program.

    What Is the MAVNI Program?

    MAVNI, short for Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest, is a recruitment program meant for immigrants and non-immigrants who are interested in joining the U.S. military. The program was made by the U.S. Department of Defense, and it allows legal immigrants or nonimmigrants to get recruited into the country’s military services.

    The program allows these people to also apply for U.S. citizenship immediately through Form N-400, “Application for Naturalization”. This becomes possible without having to get lawful permanent residence first. Among individuals who can apply for MAVNI are also F and M students as long as they meet the requirements.

    The MAVNI Program is only accessible for legal aliens who have the right skills that make them suitable for being in the military. This could include language experts or health care professionals, for instance.

    Why Was the MAVNI Program Created?

    Immigration attorney Margaret Stock was instrumental in launching the MAVNI program during the George W. Bush administration in 2008. This initiative offers a unique opportunity for non-permanent residents to join the U.S. military.

    President George W. Bush championed MAVNI, emphasizing that being American is defined by ideals and civic duty, rather than geography or ethnicity.

    MAVNI, created to tap into foreign nationals’ skills in demand, not only facilitates citizenship but also enhances national security. It has been a safeguard against potential deportations for certain residents.

    Despite its value, MAVNI faced challenges. It was briefly halted between 2009 and 2012, following the Fort Hood military base shooting. However, it was later extended, benefiting over 10,000 individuals.

    Who Is Eligible for the MAVNI Program?

    To qualify for the MAVNI Program, individuals must meet specific eligibility criteria:

    1. Legal Immigration Status: Applicants must have legal immigration status, which includes being refugees, asylees, or Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients. They may also hold a non-immigrant visa, such as E, F, H, I, J, K, L, M, O, P, Q, R, S, T, TC, TD, TN, U, or V category visa.
    2. Valid Status Requirement: Eligible applicants should have maintained valid status in one of the listed categories for at least two years immediately before the enlistment date. It doesn’t have to be in the same category as the one held on the enlistment date.
    3. Absence Limit: During those two years, applicants should not have been absent from the U.S. for more than 90 days in total.
    4. Specialized Skills: The MAVNI Program specifically seeks individuals with specialized skills, such as experts in certain languages and healthcare professionals.

    Language Recruit Requirements

    Language recruits must meet the following requirements:

    1. Proven Language Skills: Language recruits need to demonstrate their language skills.
    2. Culture and Language Expertise: They should possess cultural and language capabilities critical to the Department of Defense (DoD).
    3. Active Duty Commitment: Language recruits must be willing to enlist for at least four years of active duty.
    4. Enlistment Eligibility: They must also meet the general enlistment eligibility criteria.

    Healthcare Recruit Requirements

    Healthcare recruits have their own set of requirements:

    1. Qualification Criteria: Healthcare recruits must meet the qualification criteria required for their medical specialty, as well as the criteria for foreign-trained DoD medical personnel recruited under different authorities.
    2. Fluency in English: They should be able to prove their fluency in English.
    3. Service Shortfall: Healthcare recruits are required to fill medical specialties with a shortfall of service.
    4. Service Commitment: They must be willing to serve at least three years of active duty or six years in the Selected Reserve.

    Additional Eligibility Details

    In addition to the specific criteria mentioned above, here are some additional eligibility details:

    • To be eligible for the MAVNI Program, an applicant must fall into one of the following categories at the time of enlistment: asylee, refugee, Temporary Protected Status (TPS), or specific nonimmigrant categories (E, F, H, I, J, K, L, M, O, P, Q, R, S, T, TC, TD, TN, U, or V category visa).
    • The applicant should have been in valid status in one of these categories for at least two years immediately before the enlistment date.
    • Single absences from the U.S. for more than 90 days during the two-year period preceding the enlistment date are not allowed.
    • Individuals with pending applications for adjustment of status to lawful permanent residence may still be eligible. The military service may waive the requirement that the applicant be in a specific status at the time of enlistment on a case-by-case basis.
    • Individuals granted deferred action through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals process are eligible for consideration.

    How to Apply for the MAVNI Program: 5 Steps

    Here are the steps for potentially applying to the MAVNI program, although please note that its availability is uncertain at the moment:

    1. Check Program Availability

    Currently, the U.S. military is not accepting applications for the MAVNI program. Verify if the program is open by contacting your local U.S. military recruiting office.

    2. Gather Required Documents

    In the past, applicants needed to prepare specific documents, including:

    • I-94 card
    • Passport
    • I-797 Notice of Action
    • Employment Authorization Document or any proof of U.S. legal presence

    3. Undergo Security Screenings

    Once eligibility is confirmed, applicants typically had to undergo security screenings and background checks.

    4. Meet Citizenship Requirements

    Applicants must meet various requirements to become a U.S. citizen through the MAVNI program.

    5. Contact U.S. Military Recruiting Office

    Reach out to your local U.S. military recruiting office for the most up-to-date information on program availability and to receive detailed guidance on the application process.

    While the MAVNI program may not currently be open for applications, staying informed about its history and requirements could be beneficial in case it becomes available again in the future. For immigrants seeking to serve in the military and pursue U.S. citizenship, the MAVNI program has historically provided a valuable pathway, especially for non-permanent residents who may face greater challenges in obtaining citizenship through other means.


    Is the MAVNI Program Still Active?

    As of my last update in April 2023, the MAVNI program was discontinued. It’s important to check with the Department of Defense or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for the most current information.

    What Were the Benefits of Joining the Military Through MAVNI?

    The primary benefit of the MAVNI program was the opportunity for expedited U.S. citizenship for non-citizens serving in the military. Participants could bypass lengthy residency requirements typically required for naturalization.

    Were There Any Risks Associated with the MAVNI Program?

    Participants in the MAVNI program faced certain risks, such as potential security clearance delays and uncertainties related to immigration status, especially if discharged before obtaining citizenship.

    What Types of Skills Were Sought in the MAVNI Program?

    MAVNI sought individuals with critical language skills, cultural backgrounds important to military missions, and healthcare professionals with needed medical expertise.

    How Did MAVNI Impact the Military?

    MAVNI brought linguistically and culturally diverse individuals into the military, enhancing the armed forces’ capabilities in global operations and improving cultural understanding and language proficiency.

    What Were the Requirements for Language Skills in MAVNI?

    Language skill requirements in MAVNI varied based on military needs but generally included fluency in languages critical to U.S. military missions abroad.

    How Did MAVNI Affect Immigration and Citizenship Processes?

    MAVNI allowed eligible non-citizens to bypass some standard immigration processes, offering a direct path to citizenship through military service, which was faster than conventional pathways.

    Can Veterans of the MAVNI Program Face Deportation?

    Veterans of the MAVNI program, like other non-citizen veterans, could potentially face deportation if they did not obtain citizenship or if they encountered legal issues affecting their immigration status.

    Read More

    Final Thoughts

    Joining MAVNI would be amazing for a lot of non-residents who want to obtain permanent residency and serve in the military.

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    Frank Gogol

    I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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