Effective October 1, 2021, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began enforcing a policy that requires all applicants subject to the immigration medical examination to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before the civil surgeon can complete the exam and provide a signed Form I-693 (Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record). As a rule, new immigrants must receive the COVID vaccine. However, a waiver is available for certain individuals.
For new immigrants who do not want the vaccine or cannot obtain it for certain reasons, there may be a waiver. However, you must meet the specific requirements, and it will take some effort. Carefully consider your desire to obtain a waiver.
Blanket Waivers for COVID-19 Vaccine Requirements
Blanket waivers of the COVID-19 vaccination requirements will be applied to countries where the vaccine is not routinely available. Additionally, the blanket waiver will be applied when the vaccine is not age appropriate. Blanket waivers are also available where the COVID-19 vaccine is contra-indicated due to a medical condition. However, if you are adjusting status to permanent resident, a U.S. doctor will perform your medical exam. The vaccine is widely available regardless of income, insurance or immigration status in the United States. It is also being rolled out to children at younger and younger ages.
According to the USCIS Policy Manual, an immigration officer may grant a blanket waiver if the civil surgeon or the panel physician certifies that any vaccine is not medically appropriate for one or more of the following reasons:
- The vaccine is not age appropriate;
- The vaccine is contraindicated;
- There is an insufficient time interval to complete the vaccination series; or
- It is not the flu season, or the vaccine for the specific flu strain is no longer available.
In the case of a blanket waiver, the immigrant does not need to file an additional form or pay any fee.
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Individual Waivers for Vaccine
Immigrants may also apply for individual waivers based on religious beliefs or moral convictions. Immigration officials will only grant the vaccine waiver if the individual is opposed to all vaccinations (not just certain ones) and if the opposition is based solely on religious or moral convictions. There is no waiver for the COVID-19 vaccine available based on scientific arguments or political beliefs.
The waiver of an immigrant vaccination requirement must satisfy three requirements. The applicant must be able to corroborate these three facts with documentary evidence. For this reason, it’s best to seek the assistance of an immigration attorney if you need the individual waiver vaccines. Your waiver must satisfy all three of the following requirements:
You must be opposed to all vaccinations in any form.
You must demonstrate that you oppose vaccinations in all forms. Your objection cannot be limited to the COVID-19 vaccination. If you received certain vaccinations but not others, it is not automatic grounds for the denial of a waiver. It will be difficult to overcome. However, policy requires the USCIS officer to consider the reasons provided for having received those vaccines.
For example, an applicant’s religious beliefs or moral convictions may have changed substantially since the date the particular vaccinations were administered, or the applicant is a child who may have already received certain vaccinations under the routine practices of an orphanage. These examples do not limit the officer’s authority to consider all credible circumstances and accompanying evidence.
Your objection must be based on religious beliefs or moral convictions.
USCIS officers are trained to handle this area with sensitivity. They must balance the merits of your religious beliefs against the benefit to society as a whole.
The religious belief or moral conviction must be sincere.
You must demonstrate that you hold the belief sincerely. Even if these beliefs accurately reflect your ultimate conclusions about vaccinations, they must stem from religious or moral convictions, and must not have been framed in terms of a particular belief so as to gain the legal remedy desired, such as this waiver. The belief may not be political or scientific in nature.
Be prepared to cite the source of your religious beliefs or document past decisions affected by your moral convictions. However, you do not need to be a member of a recognized religion or attend a specific house of worship.
Applying for an Immigrant Waiver for the Vaccination Requirement
You may request a waiver by submitting Form I-601, Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility, along with supporting evidence and a filing fee ($930 at the time of writing this article).
We highly recommend that you recruit the assistance of an experienced immigration attorney that can help you prepare the form and assemble appropriate evidence for your case. You will likely submit a sworn statement articulating the exact nature of your religious belief or moral conviction against vaccines. The statement should also explain how those beliefs would be violated or compromised by complying with the vaccine requirement. Other evidence that corroborates your statement and the facts submitted in Form I-601 are necessary.
USCIS reviews each waiver on a discretionary case-by-case basis. If your waiver request meets the requirements described above, you will generally receive a waiver for the vaccine requirement.
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