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U.S. to allow more noncitizens to serve

Nov. 5, 2012 - 07:12AM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 5, 2012 - 07:12AM  |  
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Uncle Sam wants you even if you are a foreign national who is not a permanent U.S. resident.

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Uncle Sam wants you even if you are a foreign national who is not a permanent U.S. resident.

Thousands of legal immigrants will be able to serve in the U.S. military under an expanded Pentagon program that aims to recruit noncitizens with critical skills, such as doctors, nurses and foreign language speakers.

The new program offers the only route into military service available to foreigners who do not have green cards granting them permanent residency in the U.S.

While the U.S. military for years has recruited legal immigrants who have green cards, this new program opens up 1,500 slots a year for people without green cards who entered the U.S. using temporary visas.

The new recruits must either have medical skills that help fill a service's shortfall or be proficient in one of 44 foreign languages that the Defense Department deems critical to national security, including Russian, Arabic and Chinese.

The program "potentially provides a unique opportunity to fill some of our most critical readiness needs," said Eileen Lainez, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

The program began with a one-year pilot in 2008, which opened the door for 1,000 recruits. Most of those went into the Army.

After letting it lapse for several years, the Pentagon renewed the program and expanded it to allow up to 1,500 recruits each year for the next two years, Lainez said.

Nonresidents seeking to join the military from a temporary visa must have lived in the U.S. for two years prior to enlistment.

About 24,000 noncitizens serve on active duty, and about 5,000 green card holders enlist each year, defense officials said.

Under current law, all foreigners serving in the U.S. military can have their citizenship applications fast-tracked with the Department of Homeland Security.

In many cases, they can complete the process during basic training and become U.S. citizens before arriving at their first duty station, said Dan Cosgrove, a spokesman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Troops who do not have green cards will be required to apply for U.S. citizenship after enlisting, Cosgrove said.

Since 2002, about 80,000 troops have become naturalized Americans.

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