Military program suspension hurts international University students

International students formed a group in July to assist students left uncertain after the suspension of a federal U.S. citizenship program.

President of the MAVNI Advisory Committee Daniel Jung speaks about his personal concerns surrounding the MAVNI process in Heller Hall on Friday, Sept. 22.

Ananya Mishra

President of the MAVNI Advisory Committee Daniel Jung speaks about his personal concerns surrounding the MAVNI process in Heller Hall on Friday, Sept. 22.

Allison Cramer

At least 30 students and alumni at the University of Minnesota were on track to become U.S. citizens through a federal program that put them through four to six years in the military.

Their progress was halted when the program was suspended in June 2016, due to security concerns. 

This left the status of thousands of recruits uncertain — including members of a recently formed group at the University.

The MAVNI program — Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest — started in 2009 and provides a direct path to citizenship for international students and other legal non-immigrants with specialized skills useful to the military.

Basic training, passing rigorous background tests and serving for four to six years in the military are some of the required factors for citizenship through the program.

Daniel Jung, a University finance and management information systems junior and MAVNI enlistee, started the MAVNI advisory committee in July. He said he wants to help other MAVNI students who may not know what’s going on with the program or what their rights are.

“I realized some people who are not on the Facebook page or don’t follow the news articles like I do, they would have no idea what to do,” Jung said. “They were told by their recruiters to just wait and wait and wait. And they have no idea why they have to wait.”

Barbara Pilling, an adviser for International Student and Scholar Services at the University, said at least 30 students and alumni have been a part of the MAVNI program, though the University doesn’t officially track the number. 

“Unless a student lets us know, there’s no way for us to find out, and some students understandably don’t want for people to know,” Pilling said.

Besides helping fellow MAVNI students, Jung’s goal is to raise awareness of the nationwide issue by speaking to elected officials, University administration and the media.

“We’ve learned in school that we have to fight for our rights and that’s what we are doing right now,” Jung said.

Jung said he met with University President Eric Kaler last week and asked him to release a statement on the program’s suspension and how it’s affecting students.

Since its suspension, several lawsuits have been filed nationwide related to MAVNI. 

Linda Aaker, an attorney with the University Student Legal Service, said these lawsuits are a way to hold the U.S. Department of Defense accountable and make sure they comply with the law.

“They’re not necessarily concerned about compliance with regulations, that’s what these lawsuits have shown pretty clearly,” Aaker said. “The bottom line is I think they are being held accountable and they’re not used to that.” 

Pilling said many students have put years of effort into drilling and aiming to serve in the military and the Department of Defense should honor their commitment to these students.

“Basically the lawsuits are asking for the U.S. government to keep their promises and allow the enlistees to go through basic training and get citizenship,” Pilling said.

Along with the Student Legal Services, Jung has been in contact with U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., about this issue.

MAVNI students who already signed contracts are living in limbo right now, Jung said, unable to go back to their home countries or get a job in the U.S. as they wait to hear if they will be sent to basic training.

“A lot of people are falling out of status because the waiting times are getting longer and longer,” Jung said. “Some people live without money for two years and then the army’s going to blame them for having an illegal job.”