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US army to recruit temporary immigrants who speak Hindi, Tamil

February 15, 2009 22:04 IST

The Unites States military, stretched thin in Afghanistan and Iraq, will recruit about 550 temporary immigrants, including those from India who know Hindi and Tamil, offering them a golden chance to become citizens in as little as six months.

The pilot programme, for the first time since the Vietnam War, will open the armed forces to temporary immigrants if they have lived in the United States for a minimum of two years, The New York Times reported quoting military officials familiar with the plan.

The Army's one-year pilot programme in New York City 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. Spanish speakers are not eligible. It will also include about 300 medical professionals to be recruited nationwide.

 Recruiting will start after Department of Homeland Security officials update an immigration rule in coming days. Immigrants who are permanent residents, with documents commonly known as green cards, have long been eligible to enlist.

Recruiters expect that the temporary 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 American army finds itself in a lot of different countries where cultural awareness is critical," Lieutenant General Benjamin C Freakley, the top recruitment officer for the Army, was quoted as saying. "There will be some very talented folks in this group," he said.

The programme will be initially limited to 1,000 enlistees nationwide in its first year, most for the Army and some for other branches. If the pilot programme succeeds, 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.

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

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