Green Card Applicants' Options for Refusing COVID-19 Vaccination Requirements

Although a COVID-19 vaccination is normally required for green card applicants, exceptions can be made for health, religious, moral, or various other reasons.

By , J.D., University of Washington School of Law

The list of required vaccines for a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence) includes the COVID-19 or coronavirus vaccine, per U.S. government guidance to civil surgeons. For immigrant visa applicants who are opposed to receiving this vaccination, three options exist, including:

  • showing that you fit within an exception
  • getting the doctor's confirmation that the vaccine isn't appropriate for you, and
  • applying for a waiver of the entire vaccination requirement.

All three are described below.

It's important to note that these are not new options, but apply existing law to a relatively new situation. Also see USCIS's September 14, 2021 Policy Alert discussing this topic.

Option 1: Check Whether You Fit Within an Exception to the COVID-19 Vaccine Requirement

The U.S. government has carved out exceptions for people who:

  • are participating in certain COVID-19 vaccine trials
  • need a humanitarian or emergency exception
  • are members of the U.S. Armed Forces or their spouses or children (under 18 years of age), and
  • where the U.S. has a national interest in having them enter the country.

You would need to take steps to prove your qualification for the exception you seek to claim. See a lawyer with any questions.

Option 2: Ask Examining Physician to Acknowledge That the Vaccine Is Not Medically Appropriate for You

A medical exam report is among the requirements for anyone applying for an immigrant visa or green card. This exam will not be performed by your personal physician, but rather by a government-approved civil surgeon. Its purpose is to find out whether you have any medical conditions that make you inadmissible to the United States on health grounds, such as having a communicable disease of public health significance. (See How Health Issues Can Make You Inadmissible to the U.S.)

This physician will also check whether you've had all the vaccines required for U.S. entry, and if possible, administer any that are lacking.

But if you have a condition that makes it inadvisable to take the COVID-19 vaccine, or vaccines in general, raise this issue with the physician. It's a good idea to bring along any records from your regular doctor proving what medical issues you have, since the immigration medical exam doesn't test for everything possible. The government physician can approve you for what's known as a "blanket waiver" (meaning you don't need to apply for the waiver separately, on your own).

Pregnancy, allergies to a component of the vaccine, and immuno-compromised conditions are the main ones the U.S. government recognizes as potentially warranting an exception from the COVID-19 vaccination requirement.

Age-appropriateness is also cause for a blanket waiver, meaning that young infants would (per current guidelines) not be required to have a COVID-19 vaccine for U.S. admission.

And, if the vaccine is not easily obtained in your country, the physician can issue a waiver on this basis, as well.

Option 3: Apply on Form I-601 for a Waiver of Vaccination Requirement

If you have religious or moral objections to vaccinations in general, you may apply for a waiver of the vaccination requirements. You cannot, however, direct your objection only to the COVID-19 vaccination. This must be an across-the-board objection.

To apply for a vaccinations waiver, you will need to fill out and submit USCIS Form I-601 along with your green card application, and include evidence that you are against vaccinations in any form, that your objection is based on religious beliefs or moral convictions, and that your religious or moral beliefs are sincere.

Evidence should include your personal statement, describing your belief and objections in detail. Also gather letters of support from religious leaders of your faith and others in the community who share your beliefs, and make copies of religious scripts and doctrines, articles, and academic studies describing your religious or moral convictions.

Inform the examining physician that you will be requesting this waiver based on your religious or moral beliefs. If you don't speak up, the doctor might try and give you whichever vaccinations are deemed medically appropriate. The doctor does not make the final decision on the waiver application, however.

If U.S. immigration authorities eventually refuse your waiver request, they can require you to either get the vaccinations done later or give up your application for U.S. lawful permanent residence. Be aware that having had other vaccinations done in the past could undermine your request for a waiver at this point, unless you can explain your change in thinking, for example by showing a religious conversion.

Getting Legal Help

In any application that involves convincing U.S. immigration authorities of personal factual matters, it's worth considering hiring an experienced immigration attorney to help. The attorney can analyze the facts of your case, identify strengths and weaknesses, prepare the paperwork, and monitor the progress toward approval.