Selective Service Registration Requirements for US Immigrants
The U.S. immigration laws contain within them many provisions which can act as traps for the unwary and come back to haunt applicants for immigration benefits such as naturalization. One such provision of law is the requirement that naturalization applicants establish that he is a "person of good moral character, attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States." INA §316(a). This law, along with the requirement set forth in INA §337(a)(5) that a naturalization applicant take an oath promising "to bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law," has been interpreted by the USCIS to mean that some applicants who did not register with the Selective Service System are ineligible to naturalize. This often comes to a surprise to many applicants for naturalization because it may not have ever been made clear to them that they were required to register with Selective Service. This article provides guidance to non-citizens regarding their Selective Service registration requirements and the potential consequences for failing to register.
Who is Required to Register
Generally speaking, non-immigrant visa holders ARE NOT required to register with the Selective Service. But all lawful permanent resident men between the ages of 18 and 26 must register. There are also some classes of non-residents who must register which include refugees, parolees and asylum applicants. There is a detailed chart available on the Selective Service website and a good information page about the registration requirements.
How to Register
For those non-Citizens who are required to register, registration is easy. Registration can be completed online if you have a Social Security Number. If you do not have a SSN or just do not want to register online you can register by mail. The Selective Service website contains detailed instructions regarding how to register.
What Happens if I Did Not Register
Registration with the Selective Service is required by the Military Selective Service Act. This law provides for rather stiff penalties for those who fail to register as required. The penalties include large fines and potential incarceration of up to five years. These potential penalties apply to U.S. citizens and non-citizens alike. While there appear to have only been 20 indictments for violations of this law and none since 1986, it is still extremely important to follow the law--especially for those who wish to naturalize.
An application for naturalization who was required to register with the Selective Service and failed to do so may be ineligible to naturalize for the reasons outlined in the introductory paragraph. This means that any mail lawful permanent resident who lived in the U.S. in LPR status any time between his 18th and 26th birthdays and did not register with the Selective Service may have a problem. Whether or not it will be a problem generally depends on the age of the applicant.
Generally speaking, naturalization applicants who are 26 or under will have their naturalization applications denied if they have not registered with the Selective Service. However, the USCIS may post-pone adjudication of the application for a period of time sufficient to allow the applicant to register. Applicants who are 31 years of age or older and who were required to register and failed to register will not face any adverse consequences. This is because the Military Selective Service Act prohibits prosecution for failure to register after 5 years from the 26th birthday of the person who violated the act. Accordingly, the USCIS has adopted a policy that provides for the approval of all naturalization cases for applicants over the age of 31 even if they failed to register with the Selective Service. However, in rare cases, the USCIS may consider the failure to register and it could have a negative impact on your application.
It is extremely important for all lawful permanent residents to fully understand all their rights and obligations and to abide by all U.S. laws. Generally speaking, ignorance of the law is not an excuse or defense. If you have questions about your legal obligations as a lawful permanent resident or about applying for U.S. citizenship be sure to contact a qualified immigration attorney.