E.g., 06/25/2019
E.g., 06/25/2019

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

Policy Briefs
May 2019

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

Noncitizens have a long history of serving in the U.S. military, and in many periods, the promise of expedited naturalization has been used to encourage them to do so. More than 760,000 noncitizens have enlisted and obtained U.S. citizenship over the past century, with peaks during the World Wars and a smaller uptick since September 11, 2001.

Yet in recent years, Congress and the Defense Department have raised vetting requirements and changed training and naturalization timelines for noncitizen recruits, citing national security concerns. Such concerns are nothing new, but past military policies have generally reflected the view that national security is better served by having a fully staffed and highly skilled fighting force than by keeping noncitizens out.

This policy brief puts these recent changes into context, offering both a historical look at noncitizens in the U.S. military and analysis of how they could help meet modern recruitment needs. Among other things, the brief looks at the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program, through which more than 10,000 noncitizens with in-demand skills have entered the military since 2008 and before recent policies effectively halted the program. The brief also discusses approaches policymakers could take to balance security concerns with the potential benefits of allowing noncitizens with key linguistic, cultural, health-care, and cyber skills to serve in the armed forces.

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. History of Noncitizens in the U.S. Military

III. Noncitizens in the Modern U.S. Military

IV. Noncitizens as a National Security Risk

V. Enhanced Vetting for Noncitizens

VI. Noncitizens and Gaps in the U.S. Military

A. Recruitment Shortages

B. Language and Cultural Skills

C. Medical and Health-Care Expertise

D. Cyber Skills

E. Retention and Performance

VII. Recommendations

A. Expand and Update the MAVNI Program

B. Establish Efficient Vetting Procedures and Timeframes

VIII. Conclusion