Selective Service System

Updated: March 31, 2020
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    What is the Selective Service System (SSS)? This agency is responsible for collecting the personal data of all men in the United States between the ages of 18 and 25 (born after 1960) for use in the event of a national emergency requiring the use of a military draft.

    The personal data collected includes current addresses, full names, citizenship status, and other information.

    Who Is Required To Register For Selective Service

    This is required of all males in the United States regardless of citizenship. The official website of the United States Selective Service says “very few” exceptions for this registration are possible. Who is required to register?

    • All males between ages 18 and 25 within 30 days of arriving in the United States
    • U.S. born citizens
    • Naturalized citizens
    • Parolees
    • Undocumented immigrants
    • Legal permanent residents
    • Asylum seekers
    • Refugees
    • “All males with visas of any kind” which expired more than 30 days ago

    A small number of people exempt from the SSS requirement “are those on current non-immigrant visas” according to the Selective Service.

    Which Males Are Exempt From Registering?

    • Non-U.S. male who arrived in the U.S. for the first time after his 26th birthday: Documentation for this requires a valid date of entry stamp in a passport, or an I-94 with date of entry stamp on it, or a letter from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) indicating the date the man entered the United States. In cases where a male enters the U.S. illegally, “he must provide proof that he was not living in the U.S. from age 18 through 25.” Green cards do not count as documentation for these purposes.
    • Non-U.S. male on a valid non-immigrant visa: If a male enters the U.S. on an F-1 student visa and stayed past his 26th birthday, documentation would be required showing “that he was admitted on an F-1 visa and attended school full-time as required.”
    • Males born before 1960: Typical documentation requirements apply including providing a state-issued ID card, passport, birth certificate, etc.
    • Veterans: DD-214 or current full-time active duty orders, military ID cards or other paperwork may be required as proof.

    Why Are Women Exempt From Registering With The Selective Service?

    According to the SSS, current federal law does not make a provision for women to be added to the Selective Service System. There is a single, one-sentence blurb on the official site stating such with no further elaboration.


    A Brief History Of SSS

    Military drafts are nothing new. Forced conscription and state-required service have been around as long as there have been militaries to initiate them. According to some sources the modern version began in the French Revolution.

    At that time in the late 1700s, there was “near-universal” conscription in France. Many European nations took note, requiring their citizens to serve anywhere from one to eight years depending on the military, whether it was a time of war, etc.

    There was definitely conscription happening in America at the time of the Civil War, and the practice was used again in World War One. The difference being that in both cases the military draft ended as soon as the wars themselves did.

    Not so with modern American draft policy, though it was halted briefly in the 1970s to accommodate an overhaul of the registration system. According to SSS itself, the first “peacetime draft” occurred in 1940, before the United States entered World War Two.

    In the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese Imperial forces, recovery efforts were enhanced by the added manpower.

    The draft at this time expired briefly at war’s end, only to be reinstated two years later. From 1948 to 1973, the draft was used to maintain troop strength regardless of peacetime or war. Korea, Vietnam, and other operations benefited from the draft but its days of being a tool used by the government to maintain troop numbers were coming to an end.

    “Induction authority expired in 1973” the SSS official site says, but the Selective Service System remained as standby operation in case of a national emergency.

    In 1979, the system was renovated and registration was again mandatory come 1980, when U.S. males were required to sign up within 30 days of their 18th birthday.

    What Registering With The Selective Service Means

    Registration with SSS means you have identified yourself to the Federal government as a male citizen who has signed up for the draft. There has not been an active draft since 1973 and a draft cannot be reinstated without the approval of Congress and the President. The registration is basically a database kept should it be needed in times of a national emergency.

    What Registering Does NOT Mean

    Registration with the Selective Service does not mean you have enlisted in the military. It does not place a military service commitment on you, and registration does not make you part of the all-volunteer United States military.

    Furthermore, the Selective Service official site reminds citizens “The fact that a man is required to register does not mean that he will be drafted… a draft would most likely occur only in the event of war or national emergency.”

    Failure To Register Is A Crime

    The Selective Service official site says those convicted of failure to register with SSS can result in five year imprisonment, a fine up to $250,000, or both. SSS also advises that failure to register makes you ineligible for “certain benefits.”

    What To Do If You Did Not Register Before Age 26

    If you are at or over 26 years of age and have not registered with the selective service, you may be declared ineligible for federal and state programs.

    This includes citizenship programs. You will need to contact the Selective Service to request a status information letter. According to the SSS, this is part of the process that can help you determine what your status with SSS is.

    In essence, the Selective Service is looking for any indication that your failure to register was NOT a knowing and willful failure or refusal to do so. Call Selective Service to get more information on this process or to learn how to start it. Call them at 1-847-688-6888. Your call will be answered by an automated voice processing system.

    About The AuthorJoe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News

    Written by Team