The U.S. government recently imposed additional restrictions on foreign nationals related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Beginning October 1, 2021, foreign nationals applying for permanent residency (green cards) must provide proof of full vaccination against the coronavirus. The mandate comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has added the COVID-19 vaccine to its list of required vaccines for green card applicants.
The mandate adds to an earlier presidential proclamation (10143) that had imposed travel restrictions for certain individuals coming from the Schengen Area, the U.K., Ireland, India, Brazil, and several other countries. That proclamation also required all travelers into the U.S. aged 2 or older to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test or recovery from COVID-19.
The new mandate applies to green card applicants whether they are abroad or already in the U.S. They must show either an official COVID-19 vaccination record or copy of a medical chart, or they must receive the vaccine from a panel physician or civil surgeon as part of the immigration screening process. Laboratory or other evidence of COVID-19 immunity cannot be used in place of vaccination. Green card applicants who do not provide evidence of COVID-19 vaccination are inadmissible to the United States on health-related grounds.
The CDC sets forth three blanket waivers to the COVID-19 vaccine requirement for green card applicants. Applicants who are too young to receive the vaccine or who have a contraindication to it are exempt. Additionally, if an approved COVID-19 vaccine is not routinely available in the country (or state if already in the U.S.) at issue, a waiver is also available. Approved COVID-19 vaccines are those approved for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or World Health Organization (WHO) or licensed for use by the FDA. Applicants who object to the vaccine on moral or religious grounds can submit an individual waiver request to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
At the moment, there is significant pressure on USCIS to process and issue immigrant visas and approve permanent residency applications for qualified applicants quickly before immigrant visa numbers expire at the end of September. For applicants with pending permanent residency cases, this new policy may therefore not have much impact. For others who are only now at the beginning stages of the case, this additional requirement will need to be considered in the overall timing of the case. When viewed in combination with vaccine mandates for certain employees of federal contractors, this latest measure demonstrates the federal government’s move toward mandating vaccines for people under its direct jurisdiction.