There's been pretty clear direction about the requirements (or non-requirements) to be vaccinated against COVID-19 if you are a visitor to the United States versus whether you are a citizen or permanent resident, but what if you are somewhere in between?
For those who are ready and able to adjust your status or apply for permanent residence (also known as a green card) in the United States, will you be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19? Read on to find out.
If you apply for permanent residency in the United States you are required to submit something known as an I-693 form, which is a medical examination report and vaccination record. The form establishes that you are medically admissible to the U.S.
The vaccinations that have been required for U.S. immigration since 2009 are:
- Tetanus and diphtheria;
- Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib);
- Hepatitis A;
- Hepatitis B;
- Meningococcal disease;
- Pneumococcal disease; and
- Seasonal influenza.
As of September 2021, the COVID-19 vaccine was also added to that list.
In short that means that to obtain a green card in the United States, you will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19. However, like certain exceptions for travel, there also are certain exceptions from the COVID-19 vaccine if you are applying for permanent residency.
USCIS officers are allowed to grant blanket waivers only if the COVID-19 vaccine is:
- Not age-appropriate;
- Contraindicated due to a medical condition;
- Not routinely available where the civil surgeon practices; or
- Limited in supply and would cause significant delay for the applicant to receive the vaccination.
If you do not fit into one of those categories, but you are still opposed to getting the COVID-19 vaccine, it is possible that you may qualify for an exception based on religious beliefs or moral convictions, in which case an I-601 waiver would need to be filed with your permanent residency petition.
According to Chapter 3 of the USCIS Policy Manual, the following requirements need to be met for a vaccine waiver based on religious beliefs or moral convictions to be granted:
- The applicant must be opposed to all vaccinations in any form.
- The applicant cannot “pick and choose” between the vaccinations. However, the fact that the applicant has received certain vaccinations but not others is not automatic grounds for the denial of a waiver. For example, the applicant's religious beliefs or moral convictions may have changed substantially since the date the particular vaccinations were administered, or the applicant may have received some vaccinations as a child.
- The objection must be based on religious beliefs or moral convictions.
- The applicant's religious beliefs must be balanced against the benefit to society as a whole. But the officer should also be mindful that vaccinations offend certain persons' religious beliefs.
- The religious belief or moral conviction must be sincere.
- While an applicant may attribute his or her opposition to a particular religious belief or moral conviction that is inherently opposed to vaccinations, the focus of the waiver adjudication should be on whether that claimed belief or moral conviction is truly held, that is, whether it is applied consistently in the applicant's life.
- According to USCIS, religious beliefs or moral convictions are generally defined by their ability to cause an adherent to categorically disregard self-interest in favor of religious or moral tenets. The applicant has to prove a strong objection to vaccinations that is based on religious beliefs or moral convictions, as opposed to a mere preference against vaccinations.
In order to prove your sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions against getting vaccines you will need to submit a sworn statement explaining how your beliefs or convictions would be violated by getting the vaccine. If applicable, it is also helpful to submit literature published by your denomination about vaccinations, and to submit affidavits from other members of your denomination regarding the belief and your involvement in the denomination. Please note that it is not required for you to be part of a denomination to prove a religious belief or moral conviction.
The granting of a waiver is up to the USCIS officer's discretion, so the more evidence you have of your beliefs and convictions, the better.
Applying for a waiver can be quite complicated, so please reach out to us if this is the path you'd like to follow.
Stay tuned next week for our blog on whether you need to be vaccinated to travel internationally as a Lawful Permanent Resident. And check out our recent blogs on whether you need to be vaccinated to enter at a land border, or to enter by air.
If you have questions about obtaining a visa for the U.S. or obtaining a green card please reach out to us at (757) 422-8472, or send us a message on our website. You can also schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys by clicking on this link.