Green Card Applicants Required to be Fully Vaccinated Against COVID-19

August 27, 2021

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced a new policy under which all applicants for a green card must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. As part of the green card application process, all individuals are required to undergo a medical exam by a civil surgeon. This surgeon will assess a full medical history, conduct a physical examination, ensure attainment of all required vaccinations, and screen for mental health, sexually transmitted diseases, and various other illnesses that have been determined to be adverse to the interests of the general public.

Under the new guidance, all green card applicants are required to provide the civil surgeon with evidence of full vaccination against COVID-19 prior to completion of the medical exam. Acceptable vaccinations include both doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, both doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, or the single-dose Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) COVID-19 vaccine. Individuals are permitted to begin the medical exam process while completing the requisite 21/28-day vaccination schedule for the two-dose vaccines. However, the exam cannot be concluded, nor can the medical report be issued, until the civil surgeon has received confirmation that the vaccination schedule has been completed. This means that applicants can receive the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, subsequently appear at the civil surgeon’s office to complete various components of the medical exam (such as their physical exam, screening against various illnesses, and analysis of vaccination history besides COVID-19), receive the second dose of the vaccine in 21 or 28 days, and then return to the civil surgeon’s office to complete the remaining segments of the exam. Individuals who are lacking certain other requisite vaccines, such as those for tetanus or measles, can obtain these concurrently with, or subsequent to, the COVID-19 vaccination schedule, so long as all vaccines are received prior to conclusion of the medical exam.

This new requirement applies to all medical exams conducted on or after October 1, 2021. Those who have already secured their medical exam are exempt from the requirement as long as the report is submitted during the validity period. Any individuals who are required to obtain a new medical report will be subject to the vaccination requirement if the exam is conducted on/after the effective date.

Evidence of COVID-19 vaccination must be presented in the form of a vaccination record. This would include either an official vaccination record or a copy of the applicant’s medical chart with entries made by the respective physician or medical personnel. The record must indicate (1) the date(s) of vaccination (month, day, and year), (2) the name of the vaccine manufacturer, and (3) the lot number. Self-reported vaccinations without written documentation will not be accepted. Furthermore, the policy specifies that laboratory tests for COVID-19 immunity are unacceptable, and individuals who have recovered from the virus are still required to complete the full vaccination schedule.

Blanket exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccination requirement include the following:

  1. Applicants who are under the age for which the vaccine can be administered. At this time, individuals under the age of 12 are not authorized to receive the vaccine, and are thus exempt from the vaccination requirement.
  2. Individuals who have a contraindication or precaution to the vaccine formulation. Those who had a severe reaction to the first dose are exempt from receiving the second vaccination.
  3. If vaccines are available only in limited supply, i.e., in a state where the vaccine is not routinely available and waiting to receive the vaccination would cause significant delay to the applicant, then the individual would be exempt from the vaccination requirement.

Other categories of individuals who could be exempt from being vaccinated against COVID-19 are those who seek a waiver based on religious or moral grounds. Such applicants are required to submit a waiver request to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). These requests are granted at the discretion of the agency, and individuals will only be exempted from the vaccination requirement if the agency approves the request.

Applicants who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19, either in part or fully, do not fit into one of the blanket exemption categories, or have not been granted an exemption by USCIS based on religious or moral convictions will be deemed inadmissible to the United States. As a result, these individuals will not be eligible for a green card.


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If you have any questions or would like more information on the issues discussed in this LawFlash, please contact any of the following Morgan Lewis lawyers:

Laura C. Garvin

Washington, DC
Shannon A. Donnelly
Eleanor Pelta
Eric S. Bord

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