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US military will offer path to citizenship

Stretched thin in Afghanistan and Iraq,the American military will begin recruiting skilled immigrants who are living in this country with temporary visas...

Written by New York Times | New York | Published: February 16, 2009 12:20 am

Stretched thin in Afghanistan and Iraq,the American military will begin recruiting skilled immigrants who are living in this country with temporary visas,offering them the chance to become US citizens in six months.

Immigrants who are permanent residents,with green cards,have long been eligible to enlist. But the new effort,for the first time since the Vietnam War,will open the forces to temporary immigrants if they have lived in the US for a minimum of two years.

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.

“The American Army finds itself in a lot of different countries where cultural awareness is critical,” said Lt General Benjamin C Freakley,the top recruitment officer for the Army. “There will be some very talented folks in this group.”

The programme will begin small — limited to 1,000 enlistees nationwide in its first year,most for the Army and some for other branches. If the pilot program succeeds,it will expand for all branches of the military. For the Army,it could eventually provide as many as 14,000 volunteers a year,or about one in six recruits. About 8,000 permanent immigrants with green cards join the armed forces annually,the Pentagon reports,and about 29,000 foreign-born people currently serving are not US citizens.

Although the Pentagon has had wartime authority to recruit immigrants since shortly after the September 11 attacks,military officials have moved cautiously to lay the legal groundwork for the temporary immigrant program to avoid controversy within the ranks and among veterans over the prospect of large numbers of immigrants in the armed forces.

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