Even though the United States ended the compulsory military draft on January 27, 1973, it maintains a database of eligible men used to provide “trained and untrained manpower to the Department of Defense in a national emergency.” The agency that manages this database, the “Selective Service System”, is alive and well, as is the requirement to register.

 Who must register?

Current law requires that all male US citizens who are 18-25 register with the Selective Service.  But did you know that non-citizens must register as well?  With a few exemptions, the following males who are 18-25 must register:

  • US born citizens (including dual nationals)
  • Naturalized citizens
  • Lawful permanent residents (“green card” holders)
  • Parolees
  • Asylum seekers
  • Refugees
  • Undocumented immigrants who entered without inspection
  • All males with visas of any kind that have expired more than 30 days ago

Those who would claim that they are “conscientious objectors” if drafted also must register, but can file for the exemption from military service if drafted, as too must disabled men living at home, even if their disabilities would exempt them from military service.  Those hospitalized, incarcerated, or in a nursing/mental/rehab institution must register within 30 days of being discharged.

Who is exempt?

There are a few categories of individuals exempt from Selective Service registration:

  • Nonimmigrants who are maintaining valid nonimmigrant status (such as H-1B, H-2A, L-1, F-1, etc)
  • Members of the armed forces on active duty
  • Cadets and midshipman at Service Academies or the Coast Guard Academy
  • Students in Officer Procurement Programs at certain educational institutions
  • Transgender men who were assigned female at birth and have corrected their gender to male (transgender women assigned male at birth must register, however)

Selective Service and applying for permanent residence

Foreign nationals applying for permanent residence in the United States using Form I-485 must sign a declaration that they understand that submitting the application will automatically register them in the Selective Service if they are 18 to 25 (the form actually says “26”, but the law requires registration up to, but not including, the 26th birthday).  Those filing this form who are younger than 18 when granted lawful permanent resident status are not automatically registered, but must do so when they turn 18.  Those issued immigrant visas at a US consulate are not automatically registered, but must do so within 30 days of arriving in the United States if they fall between the required ages.

Selective Service and applying for naturalization

Lawful permanent residents who qualify to become US citizens through naturalization can file Form N-400, which asks “Are you a male who lived in the United States at any time between your 18th and 26th birthdays?”.  If you answer “yes”, you are required to list the date you registered and the registration number assigned.  However, if you answer “yes” but did not register, the form says

  • you must register if under 26 before filing the application (so that you can complete the registration date and number section) or
  • if between 26 and 31 (or 29 if filing under INA 319(a) as the spouse of a US citizen), you must attach a statement explaining why you did not register and provide a status information letter from the Selective Service (instructions to do so can be found here).

Selective Service registration goes to a person’s good moral character, which is a key requirement for naturalization.  While failure to have registered when required is not an automatic bar to naturalization, it is an issue that requires legal advice before filing for naturalization.