Selective Service and Eligibility for U.S. Citizenship

Under U.S. law, most men are required to register for military Selective Service, more commonly referred to as the “draft.” This requirement often comes as a surprise to foreign nationals when they encounter questions about Selective Service registration during the process of applying for naturalization to become U.S. citizens. Failure to register can have serious consequences, so male foreign nationals hoping to eventually become citizens of the United States should pay special attention to these requirements.

Registration Requirement

The Selective Service requirement applies only to men ages 18 through 25. For a male U.S. citizen, this typically means he is required to register within 30 days of his 18th birthday. But, the Selective Service requirements also extend to many categories of men who are not citizens of the U.S., including permanent residents (green card holders), refugees, asylees, special agricultural workers, and undocumented foreign nationals. However, it would only apply to someone who held or fell within one of the listed U.S. immigration categories prior to his 26th birthday.

Nonimmigrants Exempt from Selective Service

The requirement for Selective Service registration does not apply to lawful nonimmigrants in a temporary status. This includes students, diplomats, tourists, H1B workers, J-1 visitors, and those in other “lettered” temporary classifications. More information, and a detailed chart, is available on the Selective Service System website.

Failure to Register may Impact Ability to Meet Good Moral Character Requirement for Naturalization

In order to naturalize and become a U.S. citizen, a green card holder must show that he is “a person of good moral character” for five years (or three years, for applicants who became green card holders based on marriage to a U.S. citizen). If an applicant fails to comply with the Selective Service registration requirements, this can be cause to deny a naturalization application due to a lack of good moral character.

More specifically, if an applicant is required to register for Selective Service, but knowingly and willfully fails to register, his naturalization application is denied if he is 30 years old or younger. From the age of 31 onward, more than five years would have elapsed since his failure to register could have occurred, and therefore this alone would not be sufficient to deny the naturalization application. Further, although the USCIS will assume any failure to register was done so knowingly and willfully, an applicant can attempt to present evidence to the contrary.


Any Selective Service registration issue can be entirely eliminated by compliance, if detected early enough. Other potential pitfalls also often may be avoided, or at least anticipated, if one is aware of them in advance. Individuals who are contemplating naturalization to U.S. citizenship should seek advice well in advance. The Murthy Law Firm has extensive experience providing representation and guidance in naturalization matters.

While some aspects of immigration have changed in significant ways in the years since MurthyDotCom began publishing articles in 1994, there is much that is still the same. From time to time, clients of the Murthy Law Firm are referred to articles, like this one, which remains relevant and has been updated for our readers.


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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.