In May 2017, there were at least 1,000 recruits in the military’s program for immigrants with vital skills whose visas had expired while they waited for background checks, according to a Pentagon memo revealed through a lawsuit and obtained by Stars and Stripes.
The document said that because they were enrolled in an Army delayed-entry or delayed-training program, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had issued these recruits a temporary deferred action status, meaning they would not be deported.
But not all recruits in the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest, or MAVNI, program have been lucky enough to get deferred status. Immigration attorney and former Army Lt. Col. Margaret Stock, who was instrumental in creating and leading the MAVNI program for several years, said she was aware of numerous cases in which CIS had rejected deferred action for MAVNI recruits whose visas had expired.
Mykola Dogadailo, a recruit who was born in eastern Ukraine and came to the U.S. on a student visa, has been waiting two years for his background check to go through. Though he was fortunate to get deferred action status when his visa expired in late 2016, he still worries that his status won’t be renewed and he could be deported.
“I am not sure we are safe right now,” said Dogadailo, who lives in Provo, Utah.
Coming from a desperately poor family, Dogadailo grew up in the care of his grandparents after losing both his parents and all of his brothers at a young age. He joined the Mormon church and came to the United States in September 2009 through the church on a student visa to study construction and facility management along with English at Brigham Young University.
In January 2016, at the start of his final semester, Dogadailo enlisted in the Army as a chance to become an American citizen. For him, it was a future.
He knew he had a 90-day grace period before his visa expired to ship out to basic training. But his July ship-out date came and went. So did his September date, after which his visa expired. Since then Dogadailo has remained on hold.
Under his deferred status, he’s not entitled to work. He can’t buy a house, has no prospects to seriously woo a wife and can’t travel to visit the graves of his relatives.
“I am in stagnation,” Dogadailo said. “Nothing is happening to me and it’s becoming worse and worse.”
He holds a Ukrainian passport, but if that runs out, he knows it will not be extended. With his country at war, he knows going back there holds no promise.
“I did everything right on my side,” he said. He submitted to security checks, filled out all the paperwork and, when the rules changed, he filled out more paperwork and went through more screenings.
“But the other side — the side I signed the contract with — they are not holding up to their obligations.”
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