As the U.S. military struggles to meet recruitment numbers, the U.S. Army and Air Force have taken to recruiting immigrants with the promise of expedited U.S. citizenship in exchange for service to the country.
While the Army is coming off its worst recruitment year in decades, the Marine Corps is the only branch still on track to meet its recruitment goal for 2023. According to an Army survey, young Americans' fear of dying and developing mental illnesses as a result of their service are the primary drivers behind the shortage of future soldiers. Additionally, it is estimated that only 23 percent of 17 to 24-year-olds meet the physical, moral, and mental requirements necessary to join the Army without obtaining a waiver.
Now, both the Army and Air Force have turned their focus to immigrants promising them not only the usual benefits of adequate training and future education but also a seriously expedited path to citizenship.
"We have large populations of legal U.S. residents who are exceptionally patriotic, they're exceptionally grateful for the opportunities that this country has provided," Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas, commander of the Air Force Recruiting Service said.
The new program has immigrants enter the citizenship system upon their commitment to service. Once they report to basic training, an accelerated process begins. The goal of the program is to fill recruiting shortages while allowing immigrant service members to be sworn in as citizens upon their graduation from basic training.
Recruiting commands for both branches are targeting environments that have a high immigrant concentration. Also, when possible, the military is trying to match recruiters with immigrants who have the same ethnicity as them. The military is also using social media as a main part of its targeting strategy.
"It is one thing to hear about the military from locals here, but it is something else when it's from your fellow brother, from the country you're from," native Nepali and new Army reservist, Esmita Spudes Bidari said. Bidari was targeted through a Facebook group that facilitates connections between Nepalis and Americans by a Nepali U.S. Army recruiter. "That brother was in the group and he was recruiting and he told me about the military," Bidari said.
To date, the Army has recruited 2,900 immigrants this fiscal year coming predominantly from Jamaica, then Mexico, the Philippines, and Haiti. Other immigrant recruits have also come from Nigeria, Cameroon, Nepal, Ghana, the Dominican Republic, and Colombia.
Immigrants are not the easiest recruits to target as their enlistment comes with an extra layer of security screening and coordination with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. There is also the added struggle for recruiters of working with immigrants who don't yet have a good grasp of the English language.