Skip to Content

Who Cannot be drafted?

The United States currently uses a process called conscription to fill its military ranks in times when voluntary enlistment is not sufficient. However, not all American citizens and residents may be drafted. There are a number of criteria that render a person ineligible for the draft.

Age Limits for the Draft

Age is one of the primary factors that determine draft eligibility. There are minimum and maximum age limits placed on the Selective Service draft registration and potential conscription.

All male U.S. citizens and male immigrants residing in the U.S., aged 18 to 25, are required to register with the Selective Service System. This requirement covers men residing in the U.S. who hold Green Cards or work visas. When a draft is enacted, men in this age group would be called up first.

The upper age limit for the draft is 25. Men who have not yet reached their 26th birthday would be vulnerable to conscription in the event of a draft. Once a man turns 26, he has “aged out” of the draft.

There is no mechanism for drafting individuals over the age of 25. However, if a draft were to be extended for a prolonged period of time, the age ceiling might potentially be raised by Congress. During the major U.S. drafts for World Wars I and II, some restrictions were relaxed as more troops were needed.

On the lower end, the minimum draft age is 18. Males are required to register within 30 days of turning 18. Any male citizens or documented residents between the ages of 18 and 25 could be drafted if they meet the eligibility criteria.

It is illegal to draft minors under the age of 18 because they are not legally recognized as adults. Child soldiering is forbidden by the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Therefore, 17-year-olds and younger cannot be drafted under any circumstances.

Gender Identity

Along with age requirements, draft registration and eligibility depend heavily on gender criteria. When the draft system was established in 1917, only male citizens were required to register and be available for conscription. Women were excluded from combat roles.

Today, women are still exempt from the draft process. Only individuals identified as male at birth are obligated to complete Selective Service registration forms after they turn 18. Transgender women are not required to register or be drafted.

The same exemption applies to transgender men and non-binary individuals who were assigned female at birth. If a birth certificate indicates someone was female at the time of birth, they are not mandated to register for the draft regardless of current gender identity.

However, some transgender activists and lawmakers have called for changes to these long-standing gender-based exclusions. In 2019, a federal court ruled that excluding women from draft registration was unconstitutional. This could eventually open the draft to women as well as transgender men and non-binary people assigned female at birth. But for now, being female, transgender female, or designated female on an original birth certificate still protect someone from being drafted.

Citizenship and Residency Status

Along with age and gender criteria, U.S. citizenship or residency status also determines who must register with the Selective Service System and who could be drafted during conscription:

  • U.S. citizens living in the United States, its territories, or living abroad are required to register within 30 days of turning 18. U.S. citizens are subject to being drafted in the event Congress and the President enact conscription.
  • Lawful permanent residents, refugees, and asylum seekers residing in the U.S. are also required to register and could be drafted. The Selective Service requirement applies to documented non-citizen men between 18 and 25 living in the country.
  • Undocumented immigrants are exempt from draft registration because they are in the U.S. illegally. Since they cannot register, they also cannot be drafted.
  • Foreign nationals from ally or neutral countries legally visiting the U.S. on visas like student visas, work visas, or tourist visas are not obligated to register.
  • Citizens of adversary nations could potentially be subject to special registration requirements or policies in times of open conflict, as occurred during World War I and World War II.

In summary, U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent resident status is required for draft eligibility. Visitors, unauthorized immigrants, and anyone living in the U.S. without official documentation from the government cannot be drafted.

Permanent Medical Disqualifications

If a man is within the eligible age range and meets the gender and citizenship requirements, he may still be exempted from military conscription if he has certain permanent medical conditions.

During the induction process that takes place after a draft is enacted, registrants must undergo physical and mental examinations by military doctors. Either physical disabilities or psychological conditions that make someone unfit for service provide a basis for a draft exemption.

Some of the permanent medical issues that disqualify registrants from being drafted include:

  • Sensory disorders like blindness, deafness, or severe vision or hearing impairment
  • Loss of extremities and limb function
  • Cardiovascular conditions like heart disease or high blood pressure
  • Autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Muscular or skeletal conditions that impede movement and mobility
  • Neurological disorders like epilepsy, paralysis, Parkinson’s disease
  • Psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, psychosis, PTSD
  • Chronic conditions requiring intensive medical care and monitoring

During the induction screening process, military physicians review medical records, conduct physical exams, and request documentation to verify medical disabilities. Their assessments determine who is medically qualified for conscription.

It should be noted that only lifelong, serious disabilities warrant a permanent medical exemption. Minor, temporary medical issues do not exclude someone from the draft. Common health problems like asthma, diabetes, ADHD, or allergies are usually manageable with treatment and monitoring. The military makes accommodations for many moderate health conditions.

Education and Employment Deferments

In addition to individuals disqualified by age, gender, citizenship status, or permanent disability, some people may qualify for conditional deferments from military conscription.

Deferments provide a delay or temporary exemption from the draft. They are granted when certain educational, employment, or family circumstances outweigh the rationale for immediate induction. However, deferments do not provide permanent exemption from conscription.

Two common draft deferment categories are student deferments and employment deferments in certain vital industries:

  • Student deferments – Men enrolled as full-time students at a high school, college, university, vocational program, or trade school can request deferment until graduation or reaching a certain age. The goal is avoiding disruption to their studies.
  • Employment deferments – Men working in industries essential to national security and defense like scientific research, infrastructure, or food production may be able to defer conscription. These deferments aim to maintain a capable workforce in key sectors.

Deferments are not guaranteed protections, however. During the Vietnam War, many student and employment deferments were discontinued as more troops were required. The needs of the military can supersede deferments.

Hardship and Dependency Deferments

Beyond education and employment, deferments may be issued for family dependency and personal hardship reasons including:

  • Sole surviving sons – Families who have lost members in military service may receive deferment of sole surviving sons
  • Dependency – Men who financially support dependents like children, siblings, parents, or a spouse may be deferred
  • Hardship – Men whose induction would cause undue hardship due to circumstances like bankruptcy, family illness, or business failures may receive deferment

Like other deferments, family and personal hardships do not guarantee permanent draft exemption. But such circumstances can provide a compelling case for temporary deferment from military service during a draft.

Conscientious Objectors

Registrants who are opposed to participation in military service and combat on moral, ethical, or religious grounds have the option to request classification as a conscientious objector (CO).

To apply for 1-0 CO status (for those who object to both combat and non-combat military roles) or 1-A-0 status (for those who object only to combat), registrants must demonstrate:

  • Sincerely held moral, ethical, or religious beliefs against service
  • Opposition to war and violence in any form
  • Consistency of beliefs over time

If CO status is granted, it provides exemption from induction into the armed forces. However, it often requires alternative service in a civilian role that provides a tangible community benefit during the draft period. This demonstrates a willingness to serve society without violating beliefs.

Obtaining CO status involves detailed applications, interviews, recommendations, and documentation. The process aims to separate sincere convictions from attempts to shirk military obligations. Approval is not guaranteed.

CO deferments were contentious during the Vietnam War when many exploited the process to avoid being drafted. But for those with genuine convictions, the designation prevents forced violation of firmly held beliefs about violence and provides opportunities to serve in other capacities.

Essential Military Personnel

Members of the military Reserve Forces may receive deferments or exemptions from conscription during a draft. This includes:

  • Army National Guard
  • Air National Guard
  • Coast Guard Reserve
  • Marine Corps Reserve
  • Air Force Reserve
  • Army Reserve
  • Naval Reserve

Reservists provide trained personnel to complement active troops. By deferring or exempting reservists from the draft, skills and experience are retained in service. Losing reservists to conscription would counterproductively undermine military readiness and capabilities.

In addition, Active Duty service members already serving in the armed forces are protected from conscription. Drafting active personnel who volunteered would make little sense. Once their term of enlistment ends, however, they do become eligible for draft induction like other civilians.

Veterans with Prior Service

In general, prior military service provides no permanent shield from conscription in future wars. Once someone leaves active duty, they reenter the pool of civilians eligible for draft registration and induction.

However, veterans with disabilities incurred during service may be ineligible based on physical or mental fitness. And those who served honorably, especially in times of major conflict, may have compelling cases for deferments or exemptions when drafting personnel who have already done their duty.

For example, Vietnam veterans were not drafted for the war in Iraq decades after their service. And in World War II, veterans of World War I were often exempted from the draft. While not codified in law, customary practice provides some protections from repeat conscription for veterans.

Draft Exemptions in Practice

The existence of numerous exemptions and deferments does not automatically preclude anyone from conscription. All exclusions must be claimed and approved during the induction process after a draft is activated.

Between exemption criteria not being met and the potential for deferments being revoked as military needs escalate, induction is never certain until actual classification and processing for service. Anyone registered could be ultimately conscripted regardless of initial exemption assumptions.

During major wars, induction standards tend to be lowered, loopholes closed, and exceptions narrowed as more troops must be mobilized. While exemptions provide potential avenues for avoiding conscription, the ultimate goal of raising military forces can supersede many claims.

The best guarantees against serving in wartime remain falling outside draft age windows, maintaining female legal status, or not having U.S. residency. Barring that, fulfilling vital occupational roles or having permanent disabilities are stronger shields than deferments that may prove temporary once hostilities escalate.

But for most who meet eligibility criteria, being drafted remains a real possibility if Congress authorizes conscription in the future. Exemptions offer some options but no ironclad guarantees.


The United States has employed conscription to fill military ranks during several major wars throughout its history. However, mandatory service in wartime applies only to certain segments of the population. Legal exemptions exclude entire classes, while deferments provide provisional delays to induction.

Draft eligibility is governed primarily by age, gender, and citizenship criteria. Permanent disability provides exemption for those physically or mentally unfit for duty. Temporary deferments may be granted for reasons ranging from education to hardship.

But exemptions are subject to restrictions, while deferments can be revoked as military needs dictate. Avoiding active service remains uncertain for those eligible until final processing after a draft commences. With potential loopholes closed and standards lowered in wartime, exclusion is never certain.

Ultimately, the Selective Service System and Congress strive to deliver sufficient conscripts to bolster military ranks during national emergencies. While deferments and exemptions exist on paper, the manpower needs of the armed forces outweigh most individual claims to exemption in practice.