Hopes for Chinese to Naturalize Via Military Dashed

With the MAVNI program on hold, many applicants from China are left with their future in limbo. (Photo by Lan Mu via World Journal)

The U.S. Department of Defense has halted its Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI) program, which provides expedited naturalization to foreigners with special skills who would like to serve in the U.S. military. The program is popular among Chinese international students as Chinese language ability is considered a special skill. Now, given the program’s uncertain future, many candidates waiting in the pipeline have started to worry about their own future. The World Journal published two stories on July 15, by reporter Lan Mu, revealing the dire situation. 

The U.S. Department of Defense has halted its Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI) program, which had been promoted among ethnic communities as an “express train to citizenship” to attract foreigners with certain medical or language skills to serve the military. It is likely the program will be completely repealed in the future. Many Chinese who became reserve soldiers via the program said they are left in limbo and some may even face deportation because their immigration status has expired. “We don’t want to blame anyone. We just want the Department of Defense to stick to the contracts,” they said.

Many Chinese reserve soldiers said they are still waiting for basic training, a requirement in order to be eligible to serve in the military. And their non-immigrant visas have expired. They recently sent a jointly-signed letter to President Trump calling on the Department of Defense to respect the contracts. They also joined Asian American Soldiers for America to fight for their rights together with a thousand or so foreigners who are in a similar situation.

Eric Ye, a former finance major at Hofstra University, decided to join the military because his family was struggling with the costs for his college education. Ye said the recruitment process of MAVNI is very stringent. Applicants have to pass a government background check, have no criminal record and have entered the U.S. legally. And they have to pass a series of exams including in math, reading comprehension and psychology, as well as a demanding physical test.

Based on the previous process, once a recruit has passed the exams, been cleared by the National Agency Check with Inquiries (NACI), and taken the United States Army Basic Combat Training [program], they would formally start to serve in the military. But now the recruits are all surprised by the suspension of the MAVNI. “The recruiter told me I could start to serve in May. But the policy seems to be changing every month,” said Ye.

Chuck Qu, who came from Liaoning, China, four years ago to study accounting for a master’s degree, signed a contract with the military in February last year. But he heard nothing back from the military for 10 months after that. He had to apply for deferred action to avoid deportation. Still he is lucky compared to many other recruits because his application for deferred action was approved in March and he can now work legally in the U.S.

But Qu is still worried about the future. A memo signed by Defense Secretary James Mattis ranked those who were recruited by the military but still haven’t served and haven’t received clearance from the NACI among the top “security risks.” The 1,800 people in this situation may see their contracts terminated. And there are 2,400 other reserve soldiers in a similar situation to Qu’s who are also at risk of losing the opportunity to join the military. “If Department of Defense cancels MAVNI, it’d be the end of the story,” said Qu.

Jinhong Chu, a sergeant first class who has been working as a military recruiter for two years, said he is frustrated by the suspension of MAVNI. He said the program has attracted many bilingual or highly skillful foreigners to the military. For example, last March, he recruited two women from China who worked in finance before. They were able to join the military before MAVNI was halted and are now deployed in Korea and Hawaii respectively, serving the military with their professional knowledge and experiences.

Chu said the military stopped accepting applicants to MAVNI and offering related exams last August. All related recruitment has been halted. He hopes the Department of Defense will resume the program as early as possible. “Those who signed the contract offer their lives to this country. If the contract is abolished, they’d be deported. This is inhumane,” said Chu. He said many recruits are anxious because of the changes in the program and he receives many phone inquiries everyday. “We can only tell people to wait and see,” said Chu.

But Chu said it was not President Trump who should be blamed. The reason for the suspension of MAVNI is its own rapid growth. It developed so quickly to a degree that the capacity for background checks was not able to keep up and some recruits were later found to have filed fake documents or to be unqualified for the jobs they were recruited for. Chu said the MAVNI program was launched in 2009 and aimed to only recruit 1,000 people every year. But in 2014, the [number of] recruits reached 5,000 and it kept growing. Before President Obama’s term was over, the military started to tighten background checks for the recruits, which in turn increased the costs. “MAVNI recruits only make up a small portion of the army, but there are so many people applying and not enough people doing background checks. So delays are unavoidable,” said Chu.

Chu, who came to the U.S. with his parents from Canton, China, when he was 13, suggested international student recruits wait for background check clearances to have a plan B. He said he took the exams for the police academy in New York when he was a sophomore in college. Then he changed his mind and applied to join the army. He got admission into the police academy at the same time. He said those who are waiting in the pipeline of MAVNI should also look for other job opportunities if their visas are still valid.

In another story, reporter Lan Mu found that Chinese international students who tried to take advantage of the MAVNI program face great pressure from their nationalist friends and families in China.

Allen Liu’s (front) decision to join the U.S. Army is not supported by his family. (Photo provided by Liu to World Journal)

For a Chinese student in the U.S., giving up his or her studies to join the U.S. military may need not only physical endurance and knowledge and skills, but also the courage to face criticism from home. After the news that the U.S. military may abolish contracts of more than a thousand foreign soldiers was picked up by media outlets in China, Chinese netizens reacted with fury and disdain against their own compatriots. Some even called the Chinese trying to join American military “traitors.”

For Allen Liu and Frank Yu, Chinese recruits of the U.S. military, the charged atmosphere has seeped into their families. resulting in doubts from loved ones and severed ties with friends, and even, a girlfriend.

Liu, 33, came to the U.S. from Shandong province in China six years ago to study for a master’s degree in accounting at Hofstra University on Long Island. He signed the contract with the U.S. Army last April to become an active duty soldier. But his National Agency Check with Inquiries, which is required by the MAVNI program, is still pending. By December, he will have aged out of the military.

Liu’s parents worry about his future in the U.S. Still they don’t support him joining the military and always urge him to go back to China. He didn’t tell his parents about the problems he encountered with the MAVNI program, concerned it would unnerve his parents even more. Liu said he hasn’t seen his grandmother for many years. And the health of the elderly woman, who lives in China, is getting worse. He hopes he can go back to China to see her as quickly as possible.

What makes him more frustrated are the comments readers left on the website of a media outlet in China that published the news about the suspension of MAVNI. The comments, four thousand of them and all negative, labeled Chinese MAVNI recruits “traitors.”

For Yu, joining the military has been his dream since childhood. He loves American cartoons, the freedom in this country and its culture. He trusts the respect Americans show to their soldiers and applied to become a reserve soldier. He even chose the position of gas truck delivery [driver], which is more dangerous than being part of the infantry. “I have parents, but I still signed the contract,” said Yu.

After Yu filed his application, some of his friends and former classmates kicked him out of their circle of friends on WeChat, a social media platform popular among Chinese, including a friend who he has known for more than a decade. Recently, his girlfriend  suggested they break up. “We cannot see the future. I am not sure whether I can bring her happiness,” said Yu.

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