When a lawful permanent resident of the United States applies for naturalization, item 44 of part 12 of the N-400 form asks about the applicant’s registration with the selective service. Young men between the ages of 18-26 legally must register for the selective service, including male refugees, asylees, parolees, or undocumented immigrants. Men who entered the U.S. after turning 26 years old do not need to register for the selective service. Other exceptions include anyone who entered the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa and maintained their non-immigrant status through the age of 26.
Willful and knowing failure to register for the selective service can cause United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to deny an applicant citizenship due to a lack of good moral character. If an applicant between the ages 18-26 has not yet registered for selective service, many USCIS offices allow applicants to register before their applications are denied.
A subsection of part 12 of the N-400 form asks applicants between the ages of 26-31 years of age who did not register to attach a statement to the form explaining why they did not register. Based on the statement, USCIS will determine whether failure to register for selective service was willful or knowing. If it is determined that the applicant did not understand or know that they had a duty to register, then USCIS will not deny their application. The age range is lowered to 29 years if the applicant is applying under section 319(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which allows lawful permanent residents to naturalize after 3 years (instead of 5) if they are married to a U.S. citizen.
While the process of determining whether someone willfully refused to register for the selective service seems relatively straightforward, some USCIS offices have issued blanket denials for anyone who had not registered. Additionally, the process of applying pins the burden of proof on the applicant, which means that applicants must provide substantial evidence that they did not knowingly or willfully fail to register. As such, failure to register for selective service can result in a cumbersome and tedious extra step in the application process.
After the age of 31, even if the applicant’s failure to register was knowing and willful, it will have occurred outside the five-year statutory period. As a result, it should have a limited impact on USCIS’s determination of good moral character. Because applicants between ages 18-26 can register for selective service if they have not yet, failure to register should mainly concern applicants between the ages of 26-31.
If you failed to register for the selective service and are a male between ages 26-31, please contact an immigration attorney to figure out what to do next. This information is intended to educate and should not be taken as legal advice.