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Statutes of Liberty: COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates Soon Required for All Green Card Applicants

This sponsored column is by James Montana, Esq., Doran Shemin, Esq. and Laura Lorenzo, Esq., practicing attorneys at Steelyard LLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Arlington, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact James for an appointment.

The COVID-19 pandemic has lasted a year and a half (so far!) which is just enough time for our immigration bureaucracy to take vigorous and decisive action. Beginning Oct. 1, 2021, the COVID-19 vaccine will be required for most green card applicants.

It’s a sensible policy, but we’re really tired of this pandemic.

Green card applicants have always had to undergo medical examinations as part of the application process — indeed, our current procedure is an outgrowth of the famous Ellis Island medical screenings. In its modern form, these examinations are conducted by specially certified doctors in the United States, called Designated Civil Surgeons. (Are you reading this just for the useful tips? Here’s the link to finding a Designated Civil Surgeon near you.) The Department of State likewise has selected a few doctors in each country to perform immigration-related medical examinations for applicants abroad.

These exams aim to confirm that the applicant does not have any communicable diseases like tuberculosis, drug or alcohol dependency issues, or mental illnesses that pose a danger to themselves or society at large.

The medical exams also include confirming that the applicant has had required U.S. vaccinations. If the applicant has not received those vaccinations, the applicant must receive the vaccines to receive his or her green card. These vaccines include the polio, varicella (chicken pox), mumps and influenza vaccines.

On Sept. 14, USCIS announced that green card applicants inside the United States must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before the medical examiner can complete the required medical exam beginning on Oct. 1. Therefore, if an applicant intends on completing her medical exam after Oct. 1, she must show that she has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Likewise, the Department of State will begin requiring the COVID-19 vaccine beginning on Oct. 1. Importantly, there are various acceptable COVID-19 vaccines. The three “big” vaccines available in the United States are acceptable, along with vaccines approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization.

However, there are also exceptions to the vaccination requirement. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated the physician instructions to explain appropriate circumstances under which the applicant may be excused from receiving the vaccine or when the doctor should note that completing the vaccine requirement is impossible.

For example, the physician may note in the medical examination that the applicant cannot or should not receive the vaccine because it is not age appropriate, it is contraindicated for that individual, or an approved vaccine is not routinely available in the area.

Additionally, applicants may request a waiver based on religious or moral convictions. This waiver is not new; it has been available to applicants who object to other vaccinations as well. If the applicant simply refuses the vaccine and does not receive a waiver, the applicant will be deemed inadmissible (barred) from entering the United States.

As always, we’re glad to respond to questions from readers.

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