Effective Oct. 1, 2021, applicants for lawful permanent residence (“green card”) who are required to submit a medical examination report must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before the civil surgeon can complete and sign their immigration medical examination (Form I-693). Immigration laws already requires that green card applicants be vaccinated for mumps, measles, rubella, polio, tetanus and diphtheria, pertussis, influenza, hepatitis A and B, varicella, pneumococcal pneumonia, rotavirus, and meningococcal, and there are only a few limited exceptions to the new COVID-19 vaccine requirement. The requirement extends to both individuals applying to adjust their status (Form I-485) in the U.S. through U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), as well as those applying for immigrant visas at the U.S. Consulates abroad.
Green card applicants subject to the immigration medical examination will be required to complete the COVID-19 vaccine series (one or two doses, depending on the vaccine), wait the necessary period thereafter (typically 2 weeks), and then provide documentation of being fully vaccinated to the civil surgeon before completion of the immigration medical examination. This requirement applies to any medical examinations done on or after October 1, 2021.
In general, anyone applying to become a lawful permanent resident must undergo an immigration medical examination to show they are free from any conditions that would render them inadmissible to the United States under the health-related grounds. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that COVID-19 meets the definition of a quarantinable communicable disease and is therefore classified as a Class A Inadmissible Condition making unvaccinated green card applicants inadmissible and thus unable to get a green card.
Blanket Waivers for the COVID-19 Vaccine Requirement When Vaccine is Not Medically Appropriate
The USCIS may grant blanket waivers in the following situations:
The determination of who is eligible for a blanket waiver is made by the civil surgeon (physician) conducting the immigration medical examination. The green card applicant themselves cannot seek a blanket waiver without the approval of the civil surgeon.
Individual Waiver for the COVID-19 Vaccine Requirement Based on Religious or Moral Convictions
A green card applicant may also apply for an individual waiver based on religious beliefs or moral convictions. In that instance, it is the USCIS, and not the civil surgeon or CDC, that will review the waiver request and decide if such exception should be granted. To qualify, the applicant must demonstrate the following:
(1) They are opposed to vaccinations in any form (not only the COVID-19 vaccination);
(2) Their objection is based on religious beliefs or moral convictions; and
(3) Their belief or conviction is sincere.
The waiver is submitted to USCIS on Form I-601, along with the appropriate filing fee (currently $930 per applicant), and all supporting documentation necessary to demonstrate the three factors above. Typically, these waivers require extensive documentation to meet the evidentiary standard and are time consuming to prepare. USCIS is presently taking approximately 5-7 months on average to review these requests, but this is subject to change and the timing also varies widely from one USCIS office to another. It is not unheard of to have USCIS take longer than 1 year in some cases.
Recommendation to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine As Soon As Possible, Ahead of USCIS or Consular Interview to Avoid Delays
Most green card applicants in the U.S. and all green card applicants applying at the U.S. Consulate abroad will have to attend an in-person interview before their green card can be issued. In many cases, the immigration medical examination is submitted at the time of the interview. Given that it takes several weeks to become fully vaccinated, including the typical 2-week waiting period after receiving the vaccine (2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine or 2 weeks after the 2nd vaccine in a 2-dose vaccine series), attorneys at Minsky, McCormick & Hallagan, P.C. are urging all of our unvaccinated clients to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible, ahead of being scheduled for an interview at USCIS or at the U.S. Consulate abroad. Green card interviews are scheduled with no notice and with little time to prepare. Interviews can be scheduled with as little as 2-6 weeks notice.
Waiting for the interview notice to get vaccinated will likely cause delays in the getting the green card. For example, if the individual is not fully vaccinated by the date of the interview with USCIS and they had not already submitted the immigration medical examination before October 1, 2021, they may not be able to produce the exam at the time of the interview and USCIS will issue a Request for Evidence (RFE) seeking the exam within a short window of time, delaying a decision on the green card. For those who are processing their immigrant visas at a U.S. Consulate abroad, failure to be fully vaccinated by the date of the interview would require the individual to remain abroad to complete the vaccination requirement, delaying their visa issuance and travel to the U.S. by several weeks.
Please speak to an immigration attorney at Minsky, McCormick and Hallagan if you have questions about the new COVID-19 vaccine requirement.