- I would need to find a company that was willing to sponsor me for a H1B visa
- I would need to pray hard that my application would be selected from a lottery based system out of a pool of 200k plus applicants
My chances of getting an H1B were slim. 85/233 = 0.36. Hmmm… Chances of Kim Kardashian responding to my love letters were higher than that!
It also never made sense to move back to where I was from, originally, born because I knew I would face reverse cultural shock. I had been here for almost 10 years. This was home.
Uncle Sam Wants You!
It was one of those typical Sunday nights and I was up googling “how to get US citizenship” for the 8923497th time. By now, I was an expert on American Immigration law! I knew every possible way in which a person could become a US citizen. I did’t have an American spouse, I wasn’t a Green Card Holder and I certainly a Russian oil tycoon with a million dollars to invest in the US economy and obtain an residency via being an investor.
By chance, I happen to remember hearing a story about a friend of a friend who got his citizenship through the Army. this could’t be right. After all, you needed to be a citizen to join the army in the first place. I dug a little deeper. I happen to stumble across an article which talked about this little known program that allowed select immigrants with language skills to join the Army as “cultural advisers”. It was called Military Accessions Vital to National Interest or MAVNI for short. This was a pilot program created by a former West-point professor and now retired officer in the JAG corps by the name of LTC. Margaret Stock (who happens to be running for the senate as an independent in the state of Alaska at the moment!). That was all I needed to hear. I was sitting at the local army recruiter’s office the very next day.
OPI, SSBI, G845…???
Over the next few days, I had to fill out a ton of paperwork. The Standard Form 86, which i was required to fill out, made in mandatory that I disclose all info related to employment, education and residences going back 10 years. Submitting this form would trigger whats known as a Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI), which gives top level security clearance if passed. This tough vetting process was enacted to make sure immigrants joining the army did not have ties to anything terrorist-related.
Skeletons In The Closet
Even though I found out that I possessed all criteria needed to join the program, I had to pass the background check. I had done some silly things even though not illegal by any means, which made me worry that I may fail the background check aka SSBI and not be able to get my citizenship. Not all news was bad news. There was a catch. The immigration law gave soldiers the privilege of getting expedited citizenship, right after boot camp, if the United States was in a time of war. This meant I would get expedited citizenship right after graduating bootcamp, even with a pending SSBI. However, if my SSBI was unfavorably adjudicated during bootcamp, I would be kicked out of the army, with no legal status, and left with only one option: pack my Sh*t up and leave the country! This was huge risk. But then again, I din’t have any other options.
Risk vs. Reward
The MAVNI program was essentially like trading on a margin. If you were lucky you gains are amplified. The flip side is your risks are amplified as well. With the MAVNI program, I either by-pass the entire Green-card process and get my citizenship (amplified gains) in 3 months (yes 3 months!!) or I’m basically pack my bags and leave the country (amplified losses). This was a high risk high reward situation so i took a big gamble. I signed a 6 yr contract with the Army Reserve and shipped out of the Chicago Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) on a cold January day in 2015. I was terrified.
Mind you, I am an accountant. I’ve never held a weapon of any sort other than a kitchen knife! I was certainly not ready for M 16’s and grenades! Boot camp hit me like a freight train. I low crawled for hours in rough terrain, woke up at 4am everyday, eat only 3 meals a day with only 2 mins left to consume each meal and got treated like crap from every Drill Sargent. During my ten weeks at Fort Jackson (and hell no it ain’t relaxing Jackson anymore IMO!!), I so began my painful process of learning to become an American soldier. I never had endured such pain ever. I was sick the entire time at boot camp and cough blood at 3am and still had to run 2 miles in a few hours. I had zero contact with the outside world. It was tough. My only thought was about getting my citizenship. Day and night I prayed and hoped my SSBI was still pending so that I could graduate with Citizenship. Then came the bombshell. I was devastated to learn on graduation day that I was not going to get naturalized on graduation day.
Good Things Come To People Who Wait
After transferring to Fort Lee in Virginia to complete Advanced Individual Training (AIT), I finally got an email from from USCIS. My Oath ceremony was scheduled to be held on March 27th! I was in tears. I had waited years for this day. It finally came! I recited the Oath of Allegiance in a room full of American soldiers, with roots from all over the world, a week later. I was finally legal!! No more rejections from job applications for not being a US citizen. No more waiting for Visas to travel the world. I was golden. I made it.
I graduated from Fort Lee and went to my apartment, with a big smile. To make things sweeter, I just got a letter from one of the biggest banks with an offer to join one of its finance teams. So I’d like to conclude by saying that in life, you should take calculated risks, especially if you are young. Take chances, make mistakes but keep moving forward with determination.