What You Need to Know About Selective Service

Despite terminating the mandatory military draft on January 27, 1973, the United States still manages a database of eligible men used to furnish “trained and untrained manpower to the Department of Defense” in a national emergency. 

This means the United States does not maintain a conscripted military, and physically joining the armed forces is entirely voluntary. 

Yet, if you’re a male living in the U.S., you’re required to register for conscription (commonly called the draft) with the Selective Service System (SSS). They are the federal agency that maintains this database. Here’s more of what you need to know about Selective Services.

cropped shot of civilian and military man completing paperwork at desk
A cropped shot of a civilian and a military man completing paperwork at a desk. Though mandatory conscription is no longer required, male immigrants must register with the Selective Service System.

What Is the Selective Service System?

Created during World War I under Woodrow Wilson, the Selective Service System is an independent federal agency that conscripts men into the military in the event of a war. It could be thought of as a patriotic or civic duty. You receive the benefits of living in the U.S., and in return, the government may call you to fight for the U.S. during a national emergency.

Registering for the Selective Service doesn’t mean you are becoming a member of the military. To reinstate a draft, Congress must pass legislation to restart the process, and the president must sign it. At that point, the Selective Service would call men to enlist through a lottery system.

Who Is Required to Register for the Selective Service?

Registering for the Selective Service is mandatory. With very few exceptions, all male citizens and immigrant non-citizens between ages 18 and 25 must register within one month of their 18th birthday or within four weeks of arriving in the United States. 

This includes: 

  • U.S. born citizens and those who have received naturalized citizenship 
  • Parolees
  • Immigrants who are undocumented
  • Legal permanent (LP) residents
  • Individuals seeking asylum
  • Displaced persons or refugees
  • Men with visas that expired more than a month ago

Who Is Exempt From Registering for Selective Service?

There are a handful of categories where individuals may be considered exempt from registering for Selective Services:

  • Nonimmigrants maintaining valid nonimmigrant status, including F-1, H-1A, H-2B, and L-1 visas; those on current nonimmigrant visas are exempt if they remain on a valid visa until they turn 26 
  • Active-duty members of the armed forces 
  • Midshipman and cadets at the Coast Guard Academy or Service Academies
  • Students attending Officer Procurement Programs at specific educational institutions
  • Transgender men assigned female at birth and who have adjusted their gender to male; however, transgender women who were assigned male at birth are required to register for Selective Service

If you are exempt but received a letter from the SSS stating that you must register, be sure to send them supporting documentation demonstrating your exempt status.

Why Registering Is Important for Immigrants

Registering is even more crucial if you’re a non-citizen because it is a legal obligation and may impact your ability to become a naturalized U.S. citizen down the road.

If you fail to register for the Selective Service before turning 26, there are serious consequences. Men who fail to register, even if not prosecuted, become ineligible for: 

  • Your U.S. citizenship application (Form N-400)
  • Any potential avenue to citizenship through future laws (for example, Comprehensive Immigration Reform or the DREAM Act)
  • Federal contractor jobs or those needing security clearance.
  • Federal grant programs and student loans 
  • Federally backed job training under the Workforce Investment Act

How Do I Register for the Draft?

Registering for the draft is relatively straightforward, and you don’t need to visit a military office to do it. You can register for Selective Service by:

  • Registering online: The most convenient way to sign up for the draft is on the Selective Service System website; however, you need a Social Security number to do so. If you haven’t obtained a Social Security number, you will need to register through the mail.
  • Registering at the post office: Selective Service mail-back registration forms can be obtained at any post office in the United States. If you do not yet have a Social Security number, leave that space blank.
  • Register overseas: If you live overseas, you can register at any U.S. embassy or consular office.
  • Register on your FAFSA form: You can register for the SSS by checking the registration box on the federal student financial aid (FAFSA) application.
  • High School Registrar: Many high schools have a teacher or another staff member designated as a Selective Service Registrar who can help you register.

How Do I Know if I Registered for Selective Service?

You can verify if you registered for the draft online. To do so, you will need to enter your last name, Social Security number, and date of birth.

FileRight Will Ensure You Have What You Need for Citizenship

Good moral character is a key requirement when applying for naturalized citizenship. Signing up for Selective Service helps demonstrate this attribute to the U.S. Citizenship Immigration Services (USCIS). 

While failing to register for Selective Service does not automatically bar you from naturalization, it is a subject that may necessitate legal guidance before submitting your citizenship application. 
When you are ready to apply, FileRight will help you every step of the way with software to help you complete your Form N-400 and an immigration lawyer review to look over your application when finished. Contact us to learn more about citizenship requirements and to get started on your application today.

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