New mandate: Immigrants seeking permanent residency must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination, not illegal migrants

AP Photo/Gregory Bull

One part of Biden’s latest vaccination mandate is that immigrants applying for permanent residency must be vaccinated against COVID-19. However, that requirement doesn’t apply to illegal migrants crossing the southern border. The vaccinations are only required for illegal migrants if they are allowed to stay and later apply to become permanent residents. The mandate was announced Tuesday and goes into effect on October 1.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced the COVID-19 vaccinations will be part of their immigration medical examination.

In a statement about the new mandate, which will be effective October 1, the USCIS wrote that anyone ‘applying to become a lawful permanent resident, and other applicants as deemed necessary, must undergo an immigration medical examination to show they are free from any conditions that would render them inadmissible under the health-related grounds.’

Most immigrants seeking a green card will be subject to the vaccine mandate, including asylum seekers, refugees and migrants adjusting their status to permanent residence. Those applying for temporary residency will only be subject to the mandate in certain cases, the USCIS states.

Migrants seeking asylum or refugee status from within the US will not be required to have the shot, unless they seek an ‘adjustment of status’ – the department’s phrase to describe applying for a green card.

We know the application process to become a permanent resident of the United States can take years to complete. The proof of vaccination, the I-693 form, doesn’t have to be produced at the start of the application process but it does have to be submitted within 60 days of the completion of the process. So, an applicant can hold off if necessary while they wait for an interview. This means the asylum seeker or refugee seeking to become a permanent resident will have a lengthy amount of time to get vaccinated. Anyone seeking permanent citizenship must visit a doctor designated by USCIS as a “civil surgeon”. They conduct the medical exams for immigrants and sign off on the I-693 form.

People apprehended illegally crossing the southern border, however, are under no such mandate. They are offered a Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, the one-shot vaccine, at various patrol sites upon apprehension. This option has been in place since August but it is completely voluntary. If an illegal migrant wants to be vaccinated, they can, otherwise, they are not.

The CDC’s list of shots required to complete the I-693 medical exam includes flu shots, varicella (chickenpox), pneumococcal pneumonia, rotavirus (an RNA virus), Hepatitis A, and meningococcal disease. COVID-19 will be added to the list. The list isn’t new – it began in 1952 as a part of the Immigration and Nationality Act. That act specifically listed mumps, measles, rubella, polio, tetanus, diphtheria toxoids, pertussis, Haemophilus influenza type B, and Hepatitis B.

There are standard exemptions to vaccine requirements apply – those under the age of 12 and ineligible for COVID-19 vaccinations, if the civil surgeon does not have a supply of the vaccine, or if there is a shortage of vaccine supply that would delay the medical examination process. There are also medical and religious exemptions. For those facing deportation, they are offered a vaccine, same as those who are released in to the United States to wait for a court hearing. This doesn’t apply to those sent back to Mexico under Title 42 – no vaccines for them.