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Failing to Register for Selective Service: A Roadblock to Becoming a US Citizen

October 05, 2023

Aspiring to become a United States citizen is a significant step for immigrants. One crucial requirement for naturalization is demonstrating good moral character and support for the principles of the US Constitution. An often-overlooked but crucial component of this process is registering for Selective Service. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore who must register for Selective Service, why it is essential for naturalization applicants, the requirements for Selective Service registration, and the significant consequences of failing to register.

Who Must Register for Selective Service?

Selective Service registration is mandatory for male U.S. residents between the ages of 18 and 26. This includes lawful permanent residents (green card holders), refugees, asylees, and undocumented immigrants (including DACA beneficiaries), as long as they meet the age requirement. It does not apply to women or foreign nationals in the United States with nonimmigrant status (tourists, students, business, etc.). Selective Service can accept a late registration but not after a man has reached his 26th birthday. 

Men may register for Selective Service at their local post office, return a Selective Service registration card received by mail, or online at the Selective Service System website. Confirmation of registration may be obtained by calling 1-847-688-6888 or going online to sss.gov.

Why Registering for Selective Service Is Important for Naturalization Applicants

To qualify for U.S. naturalization, applicants must demonstrate good moral character. Registering for Selective Service showcases adherence to this requirement, as it is a legal obligation imposed by the government. Additionally, it signifies support for the principles of the U.S. Constitution, as it aligns with the country’s commitment to the defense of its democracy. Refusing or knowingly and willfully failing to register for Selective Service negates an applicant’s disposition to the good order and happiness of the United States, attachment to the principles of the Constitution, good moral character, and willingness to bear arms on behalf of the United States.

Selective Service Requirements

Registering for the Selective Service System does not mean you are joining the military.

The U.S. does not have a drafted military. The decision to join the military is entirely voluntary. The Selective Service maintains a list of names in case there is a national emergency requiring rapid expansion of the armed forces. 

To register for Selective Service, individuals must:

  • Be assigned male at birth.
  • Register within 30 days of turning 18.
  • Maintain accurate and up-to-date information with the Selective Service System until the age of 26.

Importance of Registering for Selective Service for All Men

Failing to register for Selective Service can lead to the denial of certain federal benefits, including but not limited to:

  • Student financial aid, including Pell Grants.
  • Federal job training programs.
  • Federal jobs or security clearance as a contractor.
  • U.S. citizenship and immigration benefits.

Obstacle to Naturalization Created by Failing to Register for Selective Service

Chapter 7 of the USCIS Policy Manual outlines the impact of failing to register for Selective Service. It states that failing to comply with this requirement can lead to a finding of a lack of good moral character, making it difficult or impossible for an applicant to qualify for U.S. citizenship.

Consequences for Different Age Groups

(a) Applicants Under the Age of 26:

  •    Failure to register can lead to a denial of naturalization.
  •    USCIS may hold their naturalization application until they register.

(b) Applicants Between 26 and 31 Years of Age:

  •  Failing to register may result in a Request for Evidence (RFE) from USCIS, requiring the applicant to prove they were exempt from registration or have since registered.
  •  USCIS will allow the applicant an opportunity to show that he did not knowingly or willfully fail to register, or that he was not required to do so.
  • Even if the reason for failing to register is innocent, many immigration attorneys suggest it is better to wait until age 31 (if applying based on five years of permanent residence) or 29 (if applying based on three years of permanent residence while married to a U.S. citizen). The reasoning is that the applicant must show five years (or three years respectively) of good moral character.

Applicants under the age of 31 that want to proceed with naturalization (rather than waiting) may do so. The applicant will need to present evidence that failing to register for Selective Service was an innocent oversight and that he did not “willfully” avoid the requirement. Applicants should submit the following three items with Form N-400:

  1. A Status Information Letter from the Selective Service states that you are over-age and therefore no longer required to register. USCIS will refuse to consider your situation without this letter. Request a Status Information Letter.
  2. Sworn Declaration from Applicant
    This signed statement explains why you did not avoid the Selective Service and why the failure was not willful.
  3. Sworn Declaration from Supporter(s)
    This signed statement is most effective if provided by people of authority such as a public official or priest. The letter should support your explanation of what happened to result in your not knowing you were supposed to register.

(c) Applicants Age 31 and Older:

Failing to register for Selective Service does not serve as a barrier for a man who is at least 31 years old to establish his eligibility for naturalization. This is because the applicant’s failure to register falls outside the statutory five-year timeframe within which the applicant must demonstrate their good moral character and commitment to the well-being of the United States. (Please note that the applicant must be at least 31 years old on the day Form N-400 is sent to USCIS in order to fulfill the requirement of having five years of permanent residence since turning 26.)

According to the USCIS Policy Manual, individuals applying for naturalization who are 31 years of age or older remain eligible for naturalization, even if they knowingly and willfully failed to register for Selective Service. Therefore, a man’s failure to register with Selective Service does not render him ineligible for naturalization simply because he is 31 years of age or older.

In general, USCIS is not expected to request status information letters from applicants who are 31 years of age or older. However, if such a request is made, the applicant may choose to provide a  formal letter from the SSS to address the situation.

Registering for Selective Service is not just a legal requirement; it’s a crucial step for naturalization applicants to demonstrate good moral character and support for the principles of the U.S. Constitution. Failing to register can create significant obstacles on the path to U.S. citizenship. If you or someone you know is facing challenges related to Selective Service registration and naturalization, we invite you to utilize the legal services of Meimaris Law. Contact us today to start your journey toward U.S. citizenship. Contact us for more information. Your American dream is within reach, and we’re here to help you achieve it.

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