US offers immigrants citizenship to join army

February 15th, 2009 - 7:55 pm ICT by IANS  

New York, Feb 15 (IANS) The US Army is wooing skilled immigrants to join it, including those who know Hindi and Tamil, by offering them a chance to become citizens in as little as six months, a media report said.

For foreigners who live in the US on temporary visas, it often takes more than a decade to get citizenship.

As part of the army’s one-year pilot programme, to begin in New York City, it will recruit about 550 temporary immigrants who speak one or more of 35 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Igbo (a tongue spoken in Nigeria), Kurdish, Nepalese, Pashto, Russian and Tamil, the New York Times reported Saturday.

Spanish speakers are not eligible.

Immigrants, who are permanent residents holding green cards, and have lived in the US for at least two years will be eligible to join, officials said.

“The American army finds itself in a lot of different countries where cultural awareness is critical,” said Lt. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley, the top recruitment officer for the US 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.

Immigrants serving in the US Army can apply to become citizens on the first day of active service, and they can take the oath in as little as six months.

If the pilot programme 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.

Recruiters expect that the 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 army will gain in its strength in human capital,” General Freakley said, “And the immigrants will gain their citizenship and get on a ramp to the American dream.”

The army’s programme will also include about 300 medical professionals to be recruited nationwide. Recruiting will start after the Department of Homeland officials updates an immigration rule in coming days.

Language experts will have to serve four years of active duty, and health care professionals will serve three years of active duty or six years in the reserves. If the immigrants do not complete their service honourably, they could lose their citizenship, the report said.

About 8,000 permanent immigrants with green cards join the US armed forces annually, the Pentagon reports, and about 29,000 foreign-born people currently serving are not American citizens.

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