U.S. Military Looking for Skilled Immigrants

Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Soldiers Achieve Citizenship in Iraq

The United States Army will begin offering American citizenship to skilled immigrants who are living in this country with temporary visas, in exchange for their military services.

Currently, only immigrants who are permanent residents with “green cards” are eligible to enlist. The new program, for the first time since the Vietnam War, will allow temporary immigrants to enlist if they have lived in the country for at least two years and have not been out of the country for longer than 90 days during that time. They will also have to pass an English test.  
The normal path to citizenship, through working or studying in the US on temporary visas, is uncertain and often lasts more than a decade. Immigrants who serve in the military can apply to become citizens on the first day of active service, and they can take the oath in as little as six months.
In recent years, as American forces have been engaged in two wars, recruiters have struggled to meet their goals for the all-volunteer military. This problem was alleviated in the last few months as unemployment soared and thousands of Americans sought to join the military. However, the US armed forces still have difficulties in attracting doctors, specialized nurses and language experts.
Recruiters expect that the temporary immigrants will have more education, foreign language skills and professional expertise than many Americans who enlist, helping the military to fill shortages in medical care, language interpretation and field intelligence analysis.
Military officials want to attract immigrants who have native knowledge of languages and cultures that the Pentagon considers strategically vital. “The American Army finds itself in a lot of different countries where cultural awareness is critical,” said Lt. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley, the top recruitment officer for the Army, which is leading the pilot program. Recruiters are looking for immigrants who speak one or more of 35 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Igbo (spoken in oil-rich Nigeria), Kurdish, Nepalese, Pashto, Russian and Tamil. Spanish speakers are not eligible.
Opponents of the program say it could be used by terrorists to infiltrate the armed forces. But working at a recruiting station in Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, Staff Sgt. Alejandro Campos said he saw how useful it was to have soldiers who were native Arabic speakers during his two tours in Iraq. “The first time around we didn’t have soldier translators,” he said. “But now that we have soldiers as translators, we are able to trust more, we are able to accomplish the mission with more accuracy.”
U.S. Military Will Offer Path to Citizenship (by Julia Preston, New York Times)


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