Immigration to the United States is a notoriously drawn-out process. While some immigrants spend years contemplating their status as a lawful permanent resident, a legal visa-holding alien or a naturalized citizen, a small pocket of Chinese women have found a faster way to gain the elusive blue passport in a matter of months.
The United States military has seen an increase in Chinese women enlisting in the Army in hopes that serving will help them gain citizenship under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program.
The program, known as MAVNI, authorizes the U.S. Army to implement a test that allows the military enlistment of eligible legal aliens into the armed forces. In an area of Southern California, a surge of women who hold Chinese citizenship have been applying to join. Recruiter Wang Qing, working at a military enlistment processing station in the Puente Hills Mall in Rowland Heights, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles, said recruiting has seen a jump, citing goals of acquiring citizenship as the main incentive.
Though Wang said recruitment has doubled since the previous year, the reality is that the increase went from four female Chinese nationals, to eight so far this year. Though these statistics are not necessarily representative of a larger trend in Army recruitment in general, they do show that military service has become an increasingly appealing way to gain citizenship. Additionally, non-U.S. citizen recruitment typically comes not from China but rather the Philippines and Mexico. According to data from the Department of Defense, more than 65,000 immigrants were serving on active duty across the U.S. Armed Forces in 2008, representing about 5 percent of all active-duty personnel.
One of the women recruited is Meng, who recently received her master’s degree in accounting from a U.S. school. She told Chinese publication World Journal that she decided to enlist in the armed forces after realizing how hard it was for her to get a green card through regular channels. After doing a bit of research, Meng realized that joining the Army would not only give her citizenship but also make her qualified for certain scholarships should she choose to go back to school after completing her military service. Like Meng, applicant Wei Wei said that joining the military would also help her career as she will be able to get a vocational certificate after training with the military for less than five months, and that lets her stay in the country legally.
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According to GoArmy.com, the MAVNI program is used mainly to attract foreigners who have “critical language and cultural skills” in one of the designated strategic languages. Languages include Chinese, Arabic, Urdu, Farsi, and 40 others. In addition to other criteria, soldiers must be able to prove their fluency in the language by passing the Armed Forces Qualification Test and proficiency on native-language tests.
In exchange, the program offers an expedited citizenship process, allowing all soldiers to be naturalized citizens by the time they graduate from their 10-week Basic Training, enabling them to bypass the normally extensive Green Card and citizenship process, which can take anywhere from six years to 28 years.