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COVID-19, Vaccination & Immigration

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the continued development and distribution of vaccines to fight the virus, has pushed the United States to roll out new vaccine requirements for individuals applying for immigrant or refugee status, as well as non-immigrant applicants who are required to have an overseas medical examination before they’re granted entry to the United States. This article describes the details of the new vaccination requirements and some possible issues applicants may have when attempting to conform to the requirements.

What is the New Vaccination Requirement? 

Beginning October 1st, 2021, individuals applying for immigrant or refugee status, as well as non-immigrant applicants who are required to have an overseas medical examination before they’re granted entry to the United States, must receive a COVID-19 vaccination in order to come to the United States.

Beginning November 2021, all individuals travelling to the United States by air will be required to

provide proof of being fully vaccinated before flying to the United States. Additionally, all individuals arriving in the United States by air are required to show a negative COVID-19 test within three days of departure. Alternatively, an individual may show documentation showing that the individual recovered from COVID-19 in the past three months.

Who Must Get Vaccinated Before Coming to the U.S.? 

Under the new requirements, all immigrant visa applicants must obtain a COVID-19 vaccine. The only non-immigrant visa applicants required to get a COVID-19 vaccine are those who are required to receive a medical examination prior to entry into the United States. This means applicants required to submit Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record as part of their visa application must receive a full series of a COVID-19 vaccine prior to their medical examination. 

Immigrant Visa (Green Card) Applicants 

All applicants for a United States immigrant visa must obtain a full series of COVID-19 vaccination prior to attending the required medical examination with a panel physician. This includes individuals applying for an immigrant visa through consular processing and adjustment of status. Applicants must be able to prove that they obtained a COVID-19 vaccination at their medical examination by presenting their vaccination record. 

Non-Immigrant Visa Applicants

Individuals applying for certain non-immigrant visas must prove that they have received a COVID-19 vaccine. Specifically, only non-immigrant visas that require a medical examination as part of the application process must prove their COVID-19 vaccination status.

Non-immigrant visa applicants required to prove their COVID-19 vaccination status include: 

  • K and V visa applicants applying through consular or adjustment of status processing; 
  • Non-immigrants seeking change of status to V status; 
  • Refugee applicants, including principal and derivative applicants overseas; 
  • Applicants seeking derivative asylee status with the Department of State; 
  • Certain refugees and asylees applying for adjustment of status; 
  • Kurdish asylees paroled under Operation Pacific Haven applying for adjustment of status; 
  • Internationally adopted orphans;
  • Other applicants required to receive a medical examination, or ordered to do so by an immigration officer. 

Vaccination Exemptions 

Certain individuals are exempt from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine for the purpose of coming to the United States under immigrant or non-immigrant status. 

The COVID-19 vaccine requirement is exempted in the following situations: 

  • Where an applicant does not meet the age restrictions for the vaccine in his or her country. This includes individuals who are too young to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in the country where the medical exam takes place. The age restriction providing for this exemption should be documented. 
  • Where an applicant cannot receive the approved COVID-19 vaccine approved in his or her country because he or she will have a serious medical reaction. Or, an applicant has already received a first dose (of two) of a COVID-19 vaccine and had a severe reaction. Any serious medical reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine, including a reaction to a first dose, must be documented. 
  • Where an applicant is from a country where an approved COVID-19 vaccine is not routinely available. This includes where a limited supply of vaccine causes the applicant significant delays to receive the vaccine. The reason an approved COVID-19 vaccine is not routinely available must be documented. 

Vaccination Waivers

Some applicants may apply for and receive a vaccination waiver based on religious beliefs or moral convictions. Additionally, individuals who have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19, or have COVID-19 themselves, may apply for a waiver. Individuals granted a waiver after exposure to COVID-19 may only apply to the United States in accordance with the Interim Guidance for Transporting or Arranging Transportation by Air into, from, or within the United States of People with COVID-19 or COVID-19 Exposure. Applicants seeking a waiver must file Form I-601, Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The cost to file Form I-601 is $930. 

What COVID-19 Vaccines Satisfy the Requirement? 

Given the numerous COVID-19 vaccinations that have been developed throughout the world, the U.S. government has determined that the vaccine requirement may be satisfied by vaccines available inside the United States as well as certain vaccines available in other countries.

Vaccines that received emergency authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) satisfy the requirement, including: 

  • Comirnaty and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine; 
  • Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine;
  • Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine (Johnson & Johnson)

Other vaccines that received emergency use listing the World Health Organization (WHO) also satisfy the requirement, including: 

  • Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine; 
  • Serum Institute of India Covishield (Oxford/AstraZeneca formulation) COVID-19 Vaccine; 
  • Sinopharm (Beijing) BBIBP-CorV (Vero Cells) COVID-19 Vaccine; 
  • Sinovac CoronaVac COVID-19 Vaccine;
  • Novavax/Covovac;
  • Covaxin.

What Does Fully Vaccinated Mean? 

A traveler is considered to be fully vaccinated it it has been: 

  • 2 weeks since his or her dose of an approved single-dose vaccine; 
  • 2 weeks since his or her second dose of an approved 2-dose vaccine; 
  • 2 weeks since his or her full series of an accepted COVID-19 vaccine in a clinical trial, excluding placebo doses; 
  • 2 weeks since receiving 2 doses of any mix-and-match combination of approved COVID-19 vaccines administered at least 17 days apart.

How to Receive a COVID-19 Vaccine? 

Applicants must receive a COVID-19 vaccine (including multiple doses, when applicable) prior to attending their medical exam with a qualified panel physician if an approved vaccine is available in the country where the medical examination occurs.

Because some COVID-19 vaccines require more than a single dose, applicants should be careful to schedule both of their doses to occur in time for the medical examination. For example, both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require a second dose 21 days (or three weeks) after receiving the first dose, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only one dose. 

Of the seven possible vaccines available to applicants, two are approved in at least 100 countries, and another three are approved in at least 50 countries. Meanwhile, vaccine trials are ongoing in several countries.

Applicants may refer to information provided by their country about whether their country has approved a COVID-19 vaccine. The COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker website, created by McGill University in Montreal, provides specific information about each vaccine’s WHO approval status, and which countries have approved each vaccine.

What is Required at the Medical Examination? 

When attending the medical examination, the applicant must submit documentation showing the applicant received a COVID-19 vaccine series. This can include a vaccination record, including a personal vaccination record or a copy of a medical chart made by a physician or other medical provider.

The vaccination record must include the month, day, and year the vaccine was received, and should include the name or manufacturer of the vaccine. Moreover, a vaccine record must not appear to have been altered, and the vaccination dates must be reasonably spaced apart, as guidelines require. It will not constitute proof of a COVID-19 vaccination if an applicant attempts to self-report his or her vaccine without official documentation.

Physicians are required to be familiar with the vaccination documentation used in their country in order to assess the validity of documents presented by applicants. An applicant’s valid vaccination history will be documented by the physician on Form DS-3025, which will become the applicant’s permanent vaccination record.

What if an Applicant Can Prove Immunity? 

Applicants must receive a COVID-19 vaccine regardless of whether the applicant has been previously infected with COVID-19 and thus has some immunity to the virus. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), immunity from COVID-19 through prior infection is still being investigated and is inconclusive. Thus, an applicant’s claim of immunity will not present a valid reason for a waiver from the vaccine requirement. 

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Sweta Khandelwal

Sweta completed her Masters in Law from the University of California, Los Angeles and her JD from the Faculty of Law, Delhi University in India and has been practicing law for 15+ years getting visas, green cards, and citizenship for 1000+ clients, 100+ companies across 50+ nationalities.

Sweta has been recognized as a ” Super Lawyer, Rising Star,” and as amongst the ” Top 40 under 40″ immigration attorneys in California (American Society of Legal Advocates). She is also the recipient of the Advocacy Award by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

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