Starting October 1, 2021, all applicants for green cards such as EB-3 unskilled will be required to obtain the full COVID-19 vaccination in order to get approval for their medical exam and obtain permanent residence, according to a new order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The requirement applies to both adjustment of status applicants in the United States and immigrant visa applicants applying for green cards abroad at US embassies and consulates.
Only applicants who are age-eligible and deemed medically appropriate to receive the COVID-19 vaccine will be held to the requirement.
A Closer Look:
Starting October 1, 2021, green card applicants will be required to establish that they have received a complete COVID-19 vaccine series to be deemed eligible for permanent residence. On August 17, 2021 the CDC announced in guidance for civil surgeons that the new requirement will apply to persons who are seeking to adjust their immigration status within the United States as well as those applying for an immigrant visa at U.S. consulates abroad.
The CDC is responsible for ensuring that noncitizens entering the United States do not have health conditions that would pose a threat to the public health of this country. As such, a medical examination is required by CDC regulations as a means of evaluating the health of persons applying for adjustment of status as permanent residents in the United States. According to the CDC, “COVID-19 meets the definition of a quarantinable communicable disease,” and “[s]pecifically … meets the definition of severe acute respiratory syndromes …, thus making it a Class A Inadmissible Condition.” The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) policy manual defines Class A conditions as “medical conditions that render a person inadmissible and ineligible for a visa or adjustment of status.”
At the time of the medical examination, the CDC guidance states that green card applicants must present evidence of completing the entire vaccine series (one or two doses depending on the vaccine formulation). To demonstrate they have completed the vaccination series, applicants may present their official vaccination record or a copy of their medical chart showing they have been vaccinated against COVID-19. The United States will not accept “self-reported vaccine doses without written documentation” from a doctor or medical professional. The acceptable versions of the vaccine include those manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson).
Immigration medical exams are conducted in connection with the health-related ground of inadmissibility found in Section 212(a)(1) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
What Happens If I’m not Fully Vaccinated?
When the new requirement takes effect on October 1st, 2021, green card applicants attending their medical examination will be required to show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination with a vaccine authorized for use in the United States or listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization.
If an applicant is not yet fully vaccinated and the COVID-19 vaccine is available to the U.S. civil surgeon or panel physician performing the medical exam, the doctor is permitted to vaccinate the applicant. However, the applicant must receive the full COVID-19 vaccine series before the medical exam can be completed, so case processing may be delayed if the applicant attends an exam unvaccinated.
Can I Obtain A Waiver?
Possibly, but it will delay your case. The new CDC policy includes guidance regarding waivers and testing for adjustment of status and immigrant visa applicants as follows:
Blanket waivers: Blanket waivers of the COVID-19 vaccine requirement will apply to applicants who are younger than the lowest age limit for available vaccines in their jurisdiction, as well as for those who can document a medical contraindication. Also, in certain circumstances, if the COVID-19 vaccine is not routinely available in the jurisdiction of the U.S. civil surgeon or panel physician performing the medical exam, the applicant may be permitted a blanket waiver.
Waiver based on religious or moral convictions: If an applicant objects to COVID-19 vaccination on religious or moral grounds, the applicant must submit a waiver request to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS will determine if the waiver is granted. Neither the examining physician nor the CDC can make this determination.
Tests for immunity: The CDC advises that lab tests for COVID-19 immunity are not to be conducted as part of the green card medical exam. Applicants must receive the vaccine regardless of evidence of immunity or prior COVID-19 infection. The CDC notes that this is because the duration of immunity due to natural infection is still being investigated and may not protect the applicant throughout the immigration process.
Does This Apply to Consular Processing Cases?
Yes, the new rules do apply to consular cases. In addition, US Embassies and Consulates are implementing some additional protocols for foreign nationals applying for immigrant visas abroad.
Testing for COVID-19 infection: IV applicants must be tested for infection if they report symptoms of COVID-19 at the time of scheduling or attending their medical exam. The exam will be postponed until they have met the recovery criteria to end isolation. Further, testing of asymptomatic applicants ages two years and older may be required at the discretion of the panel physician, in order to support the public health safety of their clinics.
Close contacts of persons with COVID-19 infection: Immigrant visa applicants in close contact with someone with COVID-19 will be unable to clear their medical exam until they complete 14 days of quarantine.
Are non-citizens permitted to get the COVID-19 vaccine while in the United States?
You don’t have to be a U.S. citizen to get the vaccine. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) pledged that all immigrants – documented or undocumented - will have equal access to COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine distribution sites.
Further, receiving the COVID-19 vaccine does not count as a public charge. The DHS has stated that COVID-19 treatments or preventative services will not be considered a public charge that would prevent you from becoming a permanent resident.
You don’t need health insurance to receive the vaccine. Uninsured people are able to receive the vaccine as soon as they are eligible.
The vaccine is free. The vaccine is provided free of charge, per the CDC — which also means you don’t have to pay any provider fees or copay.
Documentation isn’t required. Your vaccination provider may ask for some form of documentation, like an ID — but you don’t have to provide proof of immigration status. Your personal information is secure. For public health purposes, you might be asked about your medical history and personal information (such as age, address, and job). This data won’t be used for civil, criminal, or immigration enforcement purposes.
Is the vaccine safe?
Yes. There are three COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the United States: Pfizer, Moderna, and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson). All three have been shown to be safe and effective in clinical trials, and millions of people have already received their vaccines.
Here are some answers to some concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine:
Can the vaccine make me sick with COVID-19? No. None of the vaccines currently being distributed in the U.S. contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. Instead, the vaccines teach your body how to build immunity and fight the COVID-19 virus.
Will the vaccine alter my DNA? No. The vaccines don’t interact with your DNA at all.
I’m worried about vaccine side effects. Like any vaccine, some people experience will experience mild side effects after injection, like fever, headache, or swelling at the injection site. Most reactions go away within a few days, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Do I still have to get the vaccine if I’ve already had COVID-19 and recovered? Yes. Even if you think you’ve already had COVID-19, experts don’t know how long natural immunity lasts.
I’m pregnant or want to become pregnant. Is the vaccine safe? Yes. There’s currently no evidence that the vaccines cause any problems with pregnancy or your ability to have a baby.
The vaccine development was rushed. How do I know it’s safe? The vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna were released so rapidly because the companies started developing their vaccines early in the pandemic, using a method that has been in development for years. They were able to be distributed within a year because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization in response to the pandemic. Studies have found that all three vaccines currently in the U.S. are safe and effective, and they meet the FDA’s rigorous scientific standards.