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Page last updated at 11:46 GMT, Sunday, 15 February 2009

US army 'wants more immigrants'

US soldiers and local people in Afghanistan
The US army wants people who can communicate with locals

The United States army is to accept immigrants with temporary US visas, for the first time since the Vietnam war, according to the New York Times.

Until now immigrants have had to have permanent residency - a "green card" - in order to qualify for the services.

But those with temporary visas will be offered accelerated citizenship if they enrol, the Times says.

The Pentagon hopes the scheme will cover shortages in areas like medical care and language interpretation.

Many temporary immigrants will have been granted visas on the basis of their education or skills, so the defence department expects the new recruits to be more qualified than applicants who are US citizens - and in particular to have languages useful in combat zones like Afghanistan and Iraq.

"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 army.

"There will be some very talented folks in this group," he told the New York Times.

"The army will gain in its strength in human capital, and the immigrants will gain their citizenship and get on a ramp to the American dream."

Opposition from veterans

The Times said the scheme could cut the time a temporary resident had to wait for a green card from up to 10 years to as little as six months.

The programme will be limited to 1,000 enlistees in its first year, but if successful could be spread to other services and expanded. It could eventually provide the army with one in six of its recruits, the Times said.

Army recruiters say their job has become easier in recent months as unemployment has risen in the US. But even so, they regret having had to turn away many immigrants because they had only temporary residency.

However, the Times said there appeared to be some opposition from officers and veterans, who expressed concern that some foreigners might have divided loyalties or be terrorists seeking to infiltrate the US armed services.

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