International Student to U.S. Citizen

Saral Shrestha bypassed the green card process and earned his U.S. citizenship by joining the U.S. Military through a program called MAVNI. Learn more about this program and how it works.

Sgt. Saral Shrestha, above, receives his Soldier of the Year award from Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III. (Dave Vergun-photo courtesy of the U.S. Army)

Saral Shrestha left his home country of Nepal in 2006 to pursue is college education in the United States. While studying computer information science networking at Bellevue University in Omaha, Nebraska on an F-1 visa, he heard about a new program called the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest, also known as MAVNI, offered by the U.S. Military.

“I dreamed of joining the military when I was a kid,” Shrestha shared. “As I grew older, I got busy with school, jobs, and family. But since I was living as a foreign student, my dream almost seemed impossible. When the pilot program for MAVNI was initiated by the U.S. Army, I thought it was now or never.”

In 2009, with just some credit hours left to go to earn his degree, he joined the U.S. Army through MAVNI.

MAVNI gives the opportunity to certain legal non-citizens who are fully licensed health care professionals or who speak one of the 44 sought-after languages to join the U.S. Military. In return, they are naturalized as U.S. citizens.

“These soldiers help the Army maintain a constant state of readiness in strategic language capabilities in order to be prepared for current and future world-wide operations,” Hank Minitrez, Public Affairs Officer explained. “Additionally, the Army has always had a difficult time recruiting qualified healthcare professionals. MAVNI has increased the Army’s inventory of health care professionals in specialties with critical shortages needed to ensure the health and well-being of the Force.”

Shrestha qualified for MAVNI because he speaks several languages, including Nepalese and Urdu, a language common in Afghanistan and used in Pakistan.

“During my deployment in 2009 I mostly worked as a mechanic, but I did get a chance to translate and help my command,” Shrestha said.

International Student to U.S. Citizen was featured in the fall 2014 issue of ISV Magazine

The Office of the Secretary of Defense authorized the start of MAVNI on February 23, 2009 as a one-year temporary program. According to Minitrez, soon after MAVNI was initiated it was put on hold for two years while mandatory enhanced security screening measures were put into place. MAVNI was renewed on September 27, 2012 for two additional years. Currently, the program is up for renewal again.

“It is unclear if MAVNI will be renewed for another year, the Office of the Secretary of Defense is currently looking to extend the program,” Minitrez explained. “MAVNI cannot be made a permanent program because in peacetime there is no means for non-green card holders to naturalize. Only during wartime (when an executive order is in effect stating that the U.S. is in armed conflict with a hostile foreign force) can non-green card holders naturalize. Therefore, when the Executive order is revoked, for practical purposes, the MAVNI program may have to end.”

For many international students, such as Shrestha, the opportunity earn U.S. citizenship through serving in the military is irreplaceable. The same day Shrestha graduated from basic training, he was naturalized as a U.S. citizen.

“This was the day when I felt I made something out of my life,” Shrestha shared. “When I became a U.S. citizen, I felt I earned it. Many people take it for granted, but to me, being a U.S. citizen was the fruit of my struggle and dedication to this country.”

Shrestha’s dedication and hard work also earned him the title of 2012 Soldier of the Year.

“I have encountered many students who are interested in MAVNI, but are not committed enough,” Shrestha said. “They key words are dedication, resilience, and being proactive. Stay strong and keep applying.”

Who Qualifies to Join the U.S. Military Through MAVNI? 4 Steps to Qualification

1. Non-immigrants who have the following visas/status

Treaty investor: E-2

Non-immigrant student: F-1, F-2 (dependent of F-1)

Exchange visitor: J-1, J-2 (dependent of J-1)

Vocational student: M-1

Non-immigrant worker: H-1B, H-2B, H-4 (dependent of H-1B)

Media: I (letter i)

Intra-company transferee: L-1, L-2 (dependent of L-2)

Extraordinary ability: O-1

Athlete: P-1

Religious worker: R-1, R-2 (dependent of R-1)

Victim of human trafficking: T-3

Victim of criminal activity: U-2

Asylee, Refugee: Temporary Protected Status (TPS)

*As of September 2014, individuals pursuant of Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA) are also eligible to apply.

2. Time in the United States of America

While being on a non-immigrant visa/status, you must reside in the United States for at least two years without having any single absence from the country for more than 90 days.

3. Expert in one of the following languages and associated cultures (will be tested for proficiency)

MAVNI languages new international student voice magazine

4. Applicant must have a high school diploma and a qualifying score on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT)


The U.S. Military is currently recruiting the following medical specialties through MAVNI

MAVNI specialities international student voice magazine

Are You Qualified and Want to Learn More?

–> Click here to meet with a local recruiter.

–> Click here to visit the U.S. Military MAVNI web page.

–>Click here to view the MAVNI information in a PDF.

–>Have questions? Contact your local recruiter and read the comments in our previous article about MAVNI 

 Deadline to apply is September 2016. It will be determined then if MAVNI will be renewed.

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