Army Extends Immigrant Recruiting

Alexandra Zavis and Andrew Becker, Los Angeles Times, May 4, 2009

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But starting today, 10 Los Angeles-area Army recruiting offices will begin taking applications from some foreigners who are here on temporary visas or who have been granted asylum.

In all, the pilot program, which was launched in New York in February, seeks to enlist 1,000 military recruits with special language and medical skills, most of whom will join the Army. Response to the program has exceeded expectations, drawing applications from more than 7,000 people around the country, many of them highly educated, defense officials said.

Those who are accepted will get an expedited path to citizenship in return for their service. {snip}

The Army requested that applicants’ full names not be used because, in some cases, it could put them or family members at risk in their home countries.

Although the Army has been meeting or exceeding its recruiting goals, defense officials say there is a shortage of soldiers with medical, foreign language and cultural abilities needed in the war on terror and peacekeeping efforts around the world.

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The Army hopes to enlist 333 healthcare professionals, including doctors, dentists, nurses and others. It is also looking for 557 people with any of 35 languages, including Arabic and Yoruba, spoken in West Africa. Spanish is not on the list. An additional 110 slots are earmarked for other services, which have not yet started taking applications for the program.

Although the effort is limited in scope, it has raised concerns among some veterans groups and advocates for tighter immigration controls. They question whether the policy shift could pave the way for large numbers of foreigners, including ones who might have entered the U.S. illegally, to join the armed services.

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Defense officials emphasize that the program is only open to foreigners who have lived legally in the U.S. for at least two years, including students, some professionals and refugees.

Those who enlist are required to meet the same physical and conduct standards as other recruits and exceed the educational standards. They are also vetted by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, and they will not be granted waivers for any criminal offenses.

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By extending the program to Los Angeles, Army officials hope to make it easier for applicants on the West Coast to be considered and to ease the pressure on New York recruiters.

They also want to reach a broader range of language experts. So far, most of the recruits have been Korean, Indian and Chinese language speakers. The Army needs more people with languages used in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, among others. Only four of the recruits enlisted as Arabic speakers, one speaks Urdu and one speaks Punjabi.

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To retain their citizenship, participants must honorably complete at least five years of service.

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