How failing to register for Selective Service creates a problem for men filing Form N-400, Application for Naturalization
Permanent resident men are commonly surprised when they stumble upon Question 44 in Part 12 of Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.
Men between the ages of 18 and 26 are expected to register for the Selective Service and provide proof for the purposes of naturalizing as a U.S. citizen. But how does failing to register for selective service affect one’s eligibility for naturalization? Will Form N-400 be denied if the applicant has not registered? There are numerous questions that this article addresses based on a review of the USCIS policy manual.
Selective Service Requirement on Form N-400
According to U.S. law, a man must register with Selective Service within 30 days of his 18th birthday. Selective Service can accept a late registration but not after a man has reached his 26th birthday. This requirement applies to citizens, permanent residents, refugees, asylees, and even undocumented aliens. It does not apply to women or foreign nationals in the United States with non-immigrant visas (e.g. tourists, students, business, etc.).
Registering 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.
Citizenship Problem Created by Failing to Register for Selective Service
Several federal benefits can be denied to someone that has failed to register for Selective Service, including U.S. citizenship. Deliberately avoiding registration or even not knowing to register can create a significant problem for a male permanent resident that wants to naturalize as a U.S. citizen.
According to Chapter 7 of the USCIS Policy Manual, “An applicant for naturalization must show that he or she has been and continues to be a person attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States during the statutorily prescribed period.”
Further, the manual makes it clear that “an applicant who refused to or knowingly and willfully failed to register for Selective Service negates his 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. “
What Happens to Someone that Failed to Register for Selective Service
Applicants Under the age of 26
Applicants for U.S. citizenship under the age of 26 should expect to have Form N-400 denied if they choose not to register for Selective Service. By making the decision not to register, the applicant is willfully failing to meet this obligation, and the USCIS officer will be forced to deny the N-400 application based on the applicant’s moral character.
Applicants that are least age 18 and under the age of 26, can take action now to correct the problem. They can easily register for Selective Service by visiting www.sss.gov. Not sure if you have registered? Applicants can even create an instant Official Letter of Verification to get proof.
Applicants Between 26 and 31 Years of Age
N-400 applicants between 26 and 31 years of age may be ineligible for U.S. citizenship. Again, applicants that “knowingly and willfully failed to register” or simply refused to register for Selective Service, should expect to have Form N-400 denied. On the other hand, 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 not registering was 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:
Many people have successfully naturalized by addressing the requisite good moral character in this manner. For the best results, always speak with an immigration attorney first.
Applicants Over 31 Years of Age
Failure to register for Selective Service does not prevent a man who was over 31 years of age from demonstrating that he is eligible for naturalization. This is because the applicant’s failure to register would be outside of the statutory five-year period during which the applicant must show that he is of good moral character and disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States. (Note: The applicant must be at least 31 years of age on the day Form N-400 is mailed to USCIS to create the five years of permanent residence since turning 26.) In accordance with the USCIS Policy Manual, applicants for naturalization who are over age 31 are eligible for naturalization even if they knowingly and willfully failed to register. Thus a man’s failure to register with Selective Service does not make him ineligible for naturalization because he is age 31 or older.
Generally, USCIS should not ask applicants who are age 31 or older to provide a status information letter. However, if asked for such a letter, the applicant may submit this formal letter from the SSS to address the situation.
Seeking Legal Advice After Failing to Register for Selective Service
Failing to register for Selective Service can be grounds for USCIS to deny Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. Many immigration attorneys will recommend that their clients wait until age 31 to apply to ensure five years of good moral character.
Applicants between 26 and 31 years of age should contact an immigration attorney before filing Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. Although the applicant may prepare sworn declarations on his own, the guidance of an experienced attorney will always be more successful.
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