Immigrants offered new route to citizenship

By Julie Hirshan |

The military currently accepts immigrants with student or work visas to join the service, but will now start actively recruiting those with medical, language or other specialized skills, offering them the opportunity to become naturalized citizens in as little as six months.

Jon Myatt, the public affairs director for the Florida Department of Military Affairs, works at the headquarters in St. Augustine. He explained how the wait time for citizenship is shortened. “If somebody joins the military, the process is somewhat streamlined because a lot of the background checks and history of that person is documented through the enlistment process … They’ve proven they speak English, they’ve proven that they have a knowledge of American history as required under the naturalization process, their education is documented, their medical status is documented,” Myatt said.

Some immigrants have more knowledge and education than most American enlistees, especially in fields such as intelligence analysis.

“They’ll do jobs Americans won’t do,” St. Augustine resident Melody Schuster said of immigrants who will return as citizens. She thinks that people risking their lives fighting on the front lines deserve to become citizens, especially if their skills are valuable to the military. “If they will work, they should be able to get citizenship,” she said.

Madlen Pockrandt, a Flagler College student from Germany with a student visa, doesn’t think that many foreigners might try to take advantage of this opportunity. “I guess it makes it easier if you really want to live here,” she said, but recognizes that other avenues make more sense. Pockrandt thinks the normal naturalization process is favorable to risking her life fighting in Iraq.

Schuster, who has a friend who fought for the Israel Defense Force, is skeptical about recruiting immigrants. “Why aren’t we training our people?” she said.

“I think it’s a bad idea. Why are they doing it really? Because you don’t have enough people that are already signed up for the military?” Pockrandt added. She continued that she thinks immigrants are being used for their skills.

The naturalization process is not mandatory, according to Myatt. Military service offers other benefits for immigrants in addition to citizenship. Green cards do not deduct time spent serving in the military. If an immigrant joins the military and spends three years overseas, “When they came back they would still have three more years on their visa because they used it serving in the military,” Myatt said.

Florida sees more immigrants enlist than some other states. The numbers are lower than states such as California and Texas that border Mexico, according to Myatt.

Schuster would like to see more Americans trained in specialized skills, but she supports others who are willing to fight. If the government gives them citizenship “then more power to them,” she said.

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