The Department of Defense announced Friday that transgender people may not enlist in the military until at least Jan. 1, 2018.
Branches of service had previously asked for an extension of a year or more to develop plans to integrate transgender recruits. The plans do not apply to transgender people already serving in the military.
Pentagon spokesperson Dana W. White said in a statement Friday that the decision came after a recommendation from the military branches. Guidelines established last year had aimed at allowing transgender troops to enlist starting at the end of June.
"Secretary [Jim] Mattis today approved a recommendation by the services to defer accessing transgender applicants into the military until Jan. 1, 2018," White said. "The services will review their accession plans and provide input on the impact to the readiness and lethality of our forces."
No explanation for the delay was given by the Pentagon. Army and Air Force officials previously told BuzzFeed News they wanted two more years to study how to welcome transgender troops. The Navy had said it would be ready by July 1, but it also asked the Pentagon for a year extension to accommodate a request by the Marine Corps.
In May, two transgender cadets graduated US military academies, USA Today reported. But with the current policy, they have not been allowed to serve as officers.
A 2016 report by the RAND Corporation commissioned by the Department of Defense found integrating transgender people in the military would have "minimal impact" on armed forces' readiness.
In the meantime, restricting people from enlisting based on their gender identity only keeps the military from finding the most talented people for its ranks, Human Rights Campaign spokesman Stephen Peters said in a statement.
“Once this important policy is implemented, it will strengthen our military by allowing qualified and talented transgender people to enlist or commission,” said Peters, Marine veteran who was discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. “Each day that passes without the policy in place restricts the armed forces’ ability to recruit the best and the brightest, regardless of gender identity. We are disappointed in this needless delay because the thousands of highly trained and qualified transgender service members openly and proudly serving our nation today have proven that what matters is the ability to accomplish the mission, not their gender identity.”
BuzzFeed News reporter Nancy A. Youssef contributed to this report.