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, a former international student from Nepal earned his U.S. citizenship through the MAVNI program.

MAVNI Program Closed and Its Future is Uncertain

MAVNI was a program that allowed non-immigrants to join the U.S. Military and earn U.S. citizenship. But as of June 24, 2016, the program is discontinued.

And with a simple Facebook post, the MAVNI program closed. There is no telling if or when the program will be reopened.

What was MAVNI?

MAVNI gave the opportunity to certain legal non-citizens who were fully licensed health care professionals or who spoke one of the 44 sought-after languages to join the U.S. Military. In return, they were naturalized as U.S. citizens. This program was developed because the Army had a difficult time recruiting qualified healthcare professionals and recruits who could speak certain languages.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense authorized the start of MAVNI on February 23, 2009 as a one-year temporary program. According to Hank Minitrez, Public Affairs Officer, 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.

“MAVNI cannot be made a permanent program because in peacetime there is no means for non-green card holders to naturalize,” Minitrez explained. “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.”

For some, they were able to join the U.S. Military through MAVNI and earn their U.S. citizenship.

Saral Shrestha–Home Country Nepal

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.

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.

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.

Though MAVNI has been discontinued, please see below if you would like to learn more about the qualifications of this program.

Who Qualified Under MAVNI? 

Read the following qualifications and see if you would have been eligible.

Must have been a non-immigrant on a visa 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)

*In September 2014, individuals pursuant of Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA) were also eligible to apply, but due to complications the U.S. Army had to stop recruiting DACA applicants. Read more by clicking here.

Must have spent a certain amount of time in the United States:

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

Must have been a healthcare professional or an expert in a certain key language:

An applicant must have been a licensed professional in the healthcare field (click here to see the list of healthcare fields that qualify) or was an expert in one of the following languages–

Albanian, Amharic, Arabic, Azerbaijani, Baluchi, Bengali, Bulgarian, Burmese, Cebuano, Cambodian-Khmer, Chinese, Czech, French (with citizenship from an African Country), Georgian, Haitian Creole, Hausa, Hindi, Hungarian, Ibo/Igbo, Indonesian, Japanese, Kashmiri, Korean, Kurdish, Lao, Malay, Malayalam, Moro (Tausug/Maranao/Maguindanao), Nepalese, Pashto, Persian Dari, Persian Farsi, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Sindhi, Singhalese, Somali, Swahili, Tagalog, Tajik, Tamil, Thai, Turkish, Turkmen, Ukrainian, Urdu (with citizenship from Pakistan or Afghanistan), Uzbek, Yoruba



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