WASHINGTON -- The U.S. armed forces will accept qualified immigrants with temporary visas as recruits and will offer them the chance to become citizens in just six months, The New York Times reported Sunday, citing the general in charge of army recruitment.
The four military branches - Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines - over the past four months have exceeded their recruitment targets, but both the Army and the Marine infantry need continuous supplies of new recruits so long as the country is engaged in prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Immigrants who are permanent U.S. residents with documentation popularly known as the "green card" have been able to join the military for many years. In 2002, then-President George W. Bush opened up a fast track for those immigrants to become U.S. citizens by serving in the armed forces.
But the new measure announced by Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley will offer for the first time since the Vietnam War the opportunity to join the military to immigrants with temporary visas who have lived in the United States for at least two years, the paper reported.
The army hopes that these immigrants will be better educated, know more foreign languages and have better technical skills than many U.S. citizens who volunteer, with an eye toward fulfilling the service's needs in medical assistance, translation and analysis of information gathered abroad.
"The American Army finds itself in a lot of different countries where cultural awareness is critical," Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, who is in charge of army recruitment, told the Times. "There will be some very talented folks in this group."
"The Army will gain in its strength in human capital," Freakley said, adding that "the immigrants will gain their citizenship and get on a ramp to the American dream."
The one-year pilot program, according to the newspaper, will be started with a reduced number of approximately 1,000 recruits, most of them for the Army and a few for the other branches.
"If the pilot program succeeds as Pentagon officials anticipate, 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," the Times said. EFE