Noncitizens in the U.S. Military: Navigating National Security Concerns and Recruitment Needs

Muzaffar Chishti, Austin Rose and Stephen Yale-Loehr
Date of Publication: 
May, 2019
Source Organization: 
Migration Policy Institute

In what capacity have non-citizens served in the U.S. military in the past? What are the critical skills they bring to the military today? What steps can be taken to facilitate their enlistment and deployment without compromising national security?  These are some of the questions addressed in this report from the Migration Policy Institute.  The backdrop to this report are measures undertaken by the Department of Defense (DOD) since 2016 to strengthen the vetting of non-citizens – measures which have greatly reduced the number of non-citizens serving in the military. The report closely examines the MAVNI (Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest) Program, which has recruited more than 10,400 noncitizens since its creation in 2008. Most MAVNI recruits have qualified for the program based on their ability to speak one of 50 critical languages sought by the DOD. Once enlisted, MAVNI recruits follow an expedited naturalization pathway. Security actions taken by the Trump administration, in response to reports of security breaches in the program, have effectively suspended the MAVNI program. MAVNI enlistees must now pass four different background checks, including the same “Tier 5” investigation required for Top Secret security clearances.  In the current environment in which recruitment goals for the military are not being met and where the DOD has to spend enormous sums of money to purchase interpreting services from outside contractors, the authors believe that these measures are extreme and unnecessary. The authors argue that a proper balance is not being struck between implementing legitimate security measures and continuing to recruit from a rich noncitizen talent pool. The report concludes with a number of recommendations, including opening up the MAVNI program to those with computer skills and allowing MAVNI recruits to do basic training while their security clearances are being processed. (American Immigrant Policy Portal)

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Chishti, M., Rose, A., & Yale-Loehr, S. (2019). Noncitizens in the U.S. Military: Navigating National Security Concerns and Recruitment Needs. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute. Retrieved from