New Covid Vaccine Requirements For U.S. Immigrants – October 1, 2021
Author: Melissa Bryan, J.D.
As the world seeks to overcome the Covid-19 global pandemic, mandatory vaccination requirements are becoming more prevalent. In keeping with this trend, starting October 1, 2021, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) and the U.S. Department of State will require COVID-19 vaccinations for all applicants applying for refugee or lawful permanent residence, with some exceptions.
Who is subject to the vaccine mandate? The vaccine requirement applies to anyone applying for an immigrant visa. One of the critical things that many people are misinterpreting is the difference between an immigrant visa (“IV”) and a non-immigrant visa (“NIV”). Immigrant visas are the visas that allow for individuals to attain Lawful Permanent Resident (“LPR”) status (Green Card). In contrast, non-immigrant visas are the visas that enable an individual to visit or enter the U.S temporarily. The requirement will apply to both adjustment of status applicants in the U.S. and IV applicants applying for green cards abroad at U.S. embassies and consulates. Thus, the COVID-19 vaccine requirement is only for persons seeking to reside in the U.S. lawfully as permanent residents and not for individuals entering the U.S. temporarily.
Exceptions: Waivers are available for applicants who are too young to receive the vaccine, have a medical contraindication to the vaccine, or who do not have access to one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines in their home countries. In addition, individuals may apply for an individual waiver based on religious or moral convictions with USCIS.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requires that all IV applicants receive a medical exam with proof that specific vaccines are taken. The Immigration Nationality Act (“INA’) further supports this in section 212(a)(1)(A)(ii) of the Act, which states that permanent residents, foreign nationals must demonstrate proof of vaccines against “vaccine-preventable diseases recommended by the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices [(“Committee”)].” The new vaccine requirement applies to applicants who are age-eligible and considered medically appropriate to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.