Effective October 1, 2021, with few exceptions, those applying for permanent residence (green card) must be vaccinated against COVID-19, now classified as a “Class A inadmissible condition,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced. The CDC explained that the COVID-19 vaccination meets the criteria for required vaccinations and is a requirement for applicants eligible for the vaccine regardless of evidence of immunity, a negative COVID-19 test, or prior COVID-19 infection. The new vaccine requirements apply to a foreign national filing an I-485 application for adjustment of status and completing the I-693 medical examination with a designated U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) civil surgeon or to a foreign national applying for an immigrant visa or refugee status at a U.S. consulate and undergoing a medical examination with a panel physician.

With respect to I-485 adjustment applicants, the CDC has stated that the 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.” The COVID-19 vaccination requirement differs from previous requirements in that “the entire vaccine series (1 or 2 doses depending on formulation) must be completed in addition to the other routinely required vaccines. COVID-19 vaccinations can now be given at any time, without regard to the timing of other vaccinations.” Acceptable vaccines include Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson). 

Panel physicians in countries outside the United States may accept vaccines authorized for emergency use or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or vaccines listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization (WHO). In addition to the three vaccines used in the United States, WHO lists many other vaccines used outside the United States, such as AstraZeneca, Covishield and Covaxin, Sputnik, Sinopharm, and Sinovac, among others. 

Waivers are available for applicants under both circumstances if the vaccine is not age-appropriate, the vaccine is medically contraindicated, or the applicant does not have access to one of the approved vaccines in their home country. Applicants may also apply for an individual waiver on religious or moral grounds.

According to reports, the Biden administration also is developing plans for a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for almost all foreign visitors to the United States, with some exceptions. As there is a great disparity in COVID-19 vaccination programs across the world, the mandating of vaccines for green card applicants and visitors may hinder the ability of people to easily come to the United States. According to the New York Times vaccine tracker, the United Arab Emirates has the highest percentage of fully vaccinated people within its population (76%), while the percentage of fully vaccinated people in countries such as India (10%), Senegal (3.5%), and Haiti (<0.1%) remains low. 

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