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COVID-19 Vaccine Required for Green Card and Refugee Processing

Posted by Hugo Valverde | Sep 03, 2021 | 0 Comments

Photo by Hakan Nural on Unsplash

Starting October 1, 2021, USCIS and U.S. embassies abroad will require applicants for adjustment of status, immigrant visas, or refugee status to be vaccinated against COVID.

After months of emergency authorization use, last week the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) fully approved the first COVID-19 vaccine - Pfizer, which will be marketed as Comirnaty, for people 16 years of age and older. In the midst of that announcement, USCIS published its new addition to the list of vaccines required for permanent resident and refugee applicants, including the COVID-19 vaccine in the new list. 

For certain USCIS petitions medical examinations are required. This is because in 1996, Congress passed legislation requiring every immigrant entering the United States, or every individual seeking adjustment of status to that of a legal permanent resident, show proof that he or she was vaccinated against vaccine-preventable diseases. COVID-19 meets the definition of a quarantinable communicable disease under 42 USC 264 and Executive Order 13295, as amended by Executive Order 13375 and 13674.

The vaccinations that have been required for U.S. immigration since 2009 are: 

  • Mumps;
  • Measles;
  • Rubella;
  • Polio;
  • Tetanus and diphtheria;
  • Pertussis;
  • Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib);
  • Hepatitis A;
  • Hepatitis B;
  • Rotavirus;
  • Meningococcal disease;
  • Varicella;
  • Pneumococcal disease; and
  • Seasonal influenza.

The newest vaccine now added onto this list for immigration is the COVID-19 vaccine. At this time USCIS is accepting the following COVID vaccinations:

  • Pfizer (also known as Comirnaty),
  • Moderna, or
  • Janssen (also known as Johnson & Johnson).

In preparation for adjustment of status, receiving an immigrant visa, or refugee admission, a medical examination must take place. Starting October 1, 2021, an applicant must complete the COVID-19 vaccine series and provide documentation of vaccination to the civil surgeon in person before completion of the medical examination. 

Are There Any Exemptions to the COVID Vaccine Requirement?

Yes. The following exceptions apply:

Blanket Waivers:


The most important blanket exception is that children younger than 12 years of age do not need the COVID-19 vaccine. This is because in the United States the COVID vaccine has not been authorized for use in anyone younger than 12 (although Pfizer has only been FDA approved for those 16 and older, emergency use authorization is in place for children aged 12-15). 


In medical terms a contraindication is a specific situation in which a drug, procedure, or surgery should not be used because it may be harmful to the person. This may be known prior to having any dose of the COVID vaccine, or if the applicant has a severe reaction to the first dose of the vaccine. If this is the case for you with the COVID vaccine, it needs to be well documented.

Vaccine Not Available:

For many refugees leaving countries in turmoil, the COVID-19 vaccine may not be readily available. If this is the case for you, it also needs to be well documented.

Requested Exemptions:

Religious or Moral:

- If someone has a religious or moral objection to the COVID-19 vaccine, they are not automatically granted an exemption. Such an applicant must apply for a vaccine exemption, and the request will be submitted to USCIS. 

What If I've Already Had COVID?

At this time applicants are required to receive the vaccine series regardless of evidence of immunity or prior COVID-19 infection. 

Please keep in mind that due to the changing circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic and the medical understanding of the virus, all of the above guidelines are subject to change. 

If you have questions regarding your adjustment of status and would like to set up an appointment with one of our attorneys, please reach out to us at (757) 422-8472, or send us a message on our website


About the Author

Hugo Valverde

Hugo's passion for immigration law stems from his own family's immigration experience. His father and mother came to the United States from Peru fleeing political persecution, and as he grew up, Hugo spent many summers in Peru. Hugo uses his experience growing up in an immigrant family and time a...


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