Are Undocumented Immigrants Eligible to Receive a COVID-19 Vaccine?

The U.S. government encourages non-citizens, no matter their immigration status (or lack thereof), to go ahead and get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they're eligible under local guidelines. Free vaccines are readily available, and should not lead to immigration arrest.

For both personal and public health reasons, people across the United States are lining up to receive vaccination shots for the COVID-19 virus. The rollout has been going forward in stages, with eligibility rules varying across states and cities or counties. Getting an appointment can require both luck and Internet savvy. For undocumented immigrants in the U.S. (sometimes called "illegal aliens"), uncertainty about both their eligibility and the legal risks of providing personal information only add to the stress.

This article will try to unpack some of the issues facing undocumented immigrants seeking coronavirus vaccination in the United States. The important things to know, however, are that:

  • you are eligible
  • free vaccinations are available to you, and
  • U.S. immigration authorities are staying away from vaccination facilities and not collecting personal data about people who get vaccinated.

Undocumented Immigrants Are Eligible for U.S. COVID-19 Vaccines

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), along with other federal agencies, call it a "moral and public health imperative" to make the COVID-19 vaccine available to undocumented immigrants and basically anyone living in the United States.

DHS therefore actively encourages non-citizens, no matter their immigration status (or lack thereof), to go ahead and get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they're eligible under local guidelines. In fact, given how many immigrants are essential workers in the United States, it's possible that some undocumented persons will be near the front of the line when it comes to vaccination eligibility.

What Personal Information People Receiving Vaccines Are Asked to Provide

You will not be asked for any sort of proof of immigration status upon arrival at the COVID-19 vaccine facility.

You will be asked for some personal information, such as your date of birth, occupation, contact information (address and phone number), medical insurance information (if you have any; it's not required for being vaccinated.) and whether you have any high-risk medical conditions.

In some localities, it's even possible to avoid giving an address or phone number when filling out vaccine paperwork, but this is rare, given that advance appointments are the norm, and the providers need a way to reach you. Also, if there's a requirement that you show residency in the state where you will be getting the vaccine (as in Florida, for example), you will definitely have to show a document with your address.

State and local agencies will not ask for a Social Security number or a fee payment, either; in fact, if anyone asks for this, whether for a vaccine or a waiting list, make double sure you're not dealing with a scam operation. Nevertheless, some private providers need a Social Security number to bill the person's insurance; and some will bill the insurance company for a vaccine administration fee.

Medical information in the U.S. is considered private. Doctors and health care workers are simply not allowed to share any of it with U.S. immigration officials. Although the Trump Administration tried to have states send information about vaccine recipients to federal agencies, that effort ultimately failed.

Undocumented Immigrants Will Not Need to Pay for COVID-19 Vaccination in the U.S.

The U.S. government is making the COVID-19 vaccine available at no cost for everyone, no matter their immigration status and no matter whether they have medical insurance. (Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of COVID-19 testing or treatment, for which there is normally a charge.)

This is being done through Operation Warp Speed, under which the U.S. government bought and distributed hundreds of millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccine providers that participate in the federal program must agree to not charge for the federally purchased vaccine itself.

Of course, if you sign up for a vaccine appointment, you will want to confirm with the provider that there will not be a charge, just in case. Again, if you're asked to pay a fee, there's a good chance you're dealing with a disreputable, perhaps even a fake provider.

Immigration Enforcement Agencies Will Not Be Conducting Raids Around Vaccine Sites

Both Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have stated they will not engage in enforcement activities at or near vaccine distribution sites or clinics.

This is consistent with ICE’s so-called "sensitive locations policy," under which ICE does not carry out enforcement operations at or near hospitals, doctors' offices, health clinics, emergency or urgent care facilities, or other health-care facilities.

If you're reading this and thinking, "But I've read about ICE showing up at plenty of sensitive locations in recent years," it's true that under the Trump Administration, this policy was largely ignored. Under the Biden Harris Administration, however, ICE and CBP have been ordered to return to the priorities that were in place for many years prior, which included focusing resources on high-priority cases such as non-citizen national security threats or serious criminals.

That said, DHS maintains its power to arrest someone at a sensitive location
"in the most extraordinary of circumstances." Thus it's possible that if someone was considered a national security threat, they could be picked up even at a health-care or vaccination facility. Nevertheless, the federal government understands the importance of keeping vaccine distribution moving forward, so such actions are unlikely.

Receiving a Free COVID-19 Vaccine Will Not Make You a "Public Charge"

If there's a chance you might apply for a U.S. green card in the future (lawful permanent residence), you will then have to show that you're unlikely to need government financial assistance in the future; in other words, be a likely "public charge." Fortunately, using free COVID-19 vaccination services will not be considered in U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' (USCIS's) public charge determinations.

Where Undocumented Immigrants Can Go for More Information on Vaccines

The U.S. government provides information and a state-by-state search tool on where to access COVID-19 vaccinations near you. You might also want to contact local nonprofits serving immigrants and refugees to see which sites or access methods they recommend, and the National Resource Center for Refugees, Immigrants, and Migrants (NRC-RIM)'s Vaccine Central pages.

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