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COVID-19 vaccinations required for most green card applicants

New CDC guidance takes effect on Oct. 1

A sign outside Grubb’s Pharmacy on Capitol Hill in April notes the availability of COVID-19 vaccines.
A sign outside Grubb’s Pharmacy on Capitol Hill in April notes the availability of COVID-19 vaccines. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Immigrants in the U.S. applying for legal permanent residence must show proof of being vaccinated against COVID-19 under a new policy beginning Oct. 1, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The agency said it now classifies COVID-19 as a “Class A inadmissible condition,” and failure to vaccinate against a vaccine-preventable disease would render a person ineligible for a visa. 

Other Class A conditions include tuberculosis, syphilis and quarantinable diseases designated by a presidential order.

In its guidance, the CDC said proof of vaccination must be provided as part of a green card applicant’s medical exam. It explained that a negative COVID-19 test is not sufficient to prove an immigrant does not pose a public risk of spreading the disease.

“A negative screening for COVID-19 at the time of the medical evaluation does not guarantee the applicant will not have COVID-19 at the time the applicant becomes a Lawful Permanent Resident,” the CDC said.

The guidance allows for medical and religious exemptions, as well as exemptions for children and people living in areas without wide vaccine distribution, but vaccine refusal without an adequate reason would be grounds for inadmissibility.

“If an applicant refuses one or more doses of a COVID-19 vaccine series that is medically appropriate for the applicant, it should be documented that the vaccine requirements are not complete and that the applicant refuses vaccination. This applicant is Class A and is inadmissible to the United States,” the agency said.

Under U.S. immigration law, foreign nationals who apply for permanent residency are also required to receive vaccinations to prevent other diseases, including mumps, measles, rubella, and hepatitis A and B.

So far, the new guidance exists only for immigrants inside the United States seeking adjustment of status, the process through which an immigrant applies for a green card without needing to return to their home country.

“It’s a very, very welcomed guidance, and I just think it’s a matter of time before it is rolled to overseas petitioners,” said Nicolette Glazer, an immigration lawyer based in California.

Republicans for months have raised concerns about the possibility of immigrants spreading COVID-19, particularly along the U.S.-Mexico border. GOP lawmakers have pushed the Biden administration to uphold Title 42, a Trump-era public health directive under which most single adults and some families are turned away at the border.

But the CDC guidance would only apply to immigrants living in the U.S. seeking permanent legal status, not those attempting to enter the country.

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