The armed forces have enlisted nearly 70,000 non-citizens since the attacks of 9/11 and, as a group, their washout rate is much lower than that of American citizens who enlist, according CNA, a think tank that studied attrition data gathered by the Defense Manpower Data Center.
Within three months of entering active service, 8.2 percent of citizen enlistees have been discharged. That is more than double the 4 percent attrition rate of non-citizens who volunteer to serve in America’s military.
At the three-year mark, 28 percent of citizens have left before completing initial service obligations while the washout rate for non-citizens remains significantly lower, at 16 percent. And the disparity widens by the four-year mark, with 32 percent of citizen recruits having been discharged versus only 18 percent of non-citizen accessions.
The results don’t change much when adjusted for age or other demographic differences between the two groups of volunteers, or even when comparisons are broken out by branch of service, CNA analysts found.
“These findings are consistent with the anecdotal evidence we gathered in our interviews of recruiters and non-citizen recruits,” wrote researchers Molly F. McIntosh and Seema Sayala. “The interviews revealed that, relative to citizen recruits, non-citizen recruits generally have a stronger attachment to serving the United States, which they now consider to be ‘their country,’ and (they) have a better work ethic.”
Given their lower attrition rate, which saves on recruiting and training costs, and the diversity of language and cultural skills that non-citizens have, CNA recommends that the services develop strategies to recruit more non-citizens, particularly as the U.S. economy improves, recruiting gets more difficult and demand stays high for foreign language skills. Suggested strategic targets are more non-citizens from India, Pakistan and China because of their educational attainment and command of English.
The report, Non-Citizens in the Enlisted U.S. Military, says that, given declining U.S. fertility rates, “the only source of net growth in the U.S. recruiting-age population is projected to be immigration” in coming decades. CNA estimates that the current size of the potential pool of eligible non-citizens, ages 18 to 29, is roughly 1.2 million. Recruiters who enlist a sizable number of non-citizens say it’s not driven today by a particular strategy. They just happen to be assigned to areas with a large non-citizen population.
Non-citizens can enlist if they hold legal permanent resident status, have education equivalent to a high school diploma and can speak acceptable English. And since July 2002, under an executive order signed by then-President George W. Bush, any non-citizen recruits is eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship after just a day of honorable service during a time of war, including the current fight in Afghanistan. Previously, non-citizen service members had to serve for three years to apply for citizenship.
Most non-citizen recruits learn of their eligibility to apply immediately for citizenship only after arriving at boot camp, CNA reports. But Army, Navy and, most recently, Air Force have partnered with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services so that the naturalization process for non-citizen recruits can begin during basic training.