The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced that, effective Oct. 1, the COVID-19 vaccine is included in the list of vaccines required for applicants to obtain permanent residence and refugee status. By way of background, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), at section 212(a)(1)(A)(ii), sets out the requirement that, in order to be found admissible to the United States as permanent residents, foreign nationals must demonstrate proof that they are vaccinated against vaccine-preventable diseases, including, “any… vaccinations against vaccine-preventable diseases recommended by the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices.” Upon having received such a recommendation, the CDC has announced that the COVID-19 vaccine is included in the list of those required under this section of the INA. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and U.S. Department of State announcements regarding this development are forthcoming.

The vaccination requirement dictates that the designated civil surgeon who performs the medical examination required for the approval of permanent residence must confirm by reviewing original documentation that the applicant received all doses of COVID-19 vaccine. Furthermore, CDC has required that if applicants have been only partially vaccinated and wish to complete the remaining portions of the medical exam upon being fully vaccinated at a later date, then the designated civil surgeons should accommodate them. CDC has indicated that acceptable evidence of COVID-19 vaccination would include a vaccination record (original or copy) or a copy of a medical chart with entries made by a physician or other appropriate medical personnel. If the COVID-19 vaccine is available to the designated civil surgeon at the time of conducting medical examinations, the civil surgeon may vaccinate applicants and document the doses. As new COVID-19 formulations are recommended by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), they can be used to fulfill this requirement.

Importantly, green card applicants and refugees who refuse one or more doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will be found inadmissible to the United States. However, blanket waivers are available to 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. These applicants will not be required to receive the vaccine. The U.S. Department of State is expected to provided additional information about their interpretation of availability of vaccines in their upcoming announcement. Additionally, individuals may apply for an individual waiver based on religious or moral convictions with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Blanket Waivers Applicable to COVID-19 Vaccinations

The above requirements will be in place until the CDC determines they are no longer needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In addition, all air passengers coming to the United States, including applicants for refugee or immigrant status, are required to show a negative result of viral test obtained within three days of departure.

As this is a rapidly evolving situation, additional guidance may be issued in the future. CDC, in partnership with in-country and international partners, will continue to monitor immigrant visa applicant and refugee movement as well as the status of the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccination efforts, and will follow up with additional information and recommendations as they become available.