Would-Be Immigrants Can Get Waivers for COVID-19 Vaccine Requirement: Lawyer

Would-Be Immigrants Can Get Waivers for COVID-19 Vaccine Requirement: Lawyer
A volunteer helps immigrants with their U.S. citizenship applications in New York City in a file photograph. (John Moore/Getty Images)
Zachary Stieber

The U.S. government since October 2021 has been requiring people seeking to immigrate to the United States to get a COVID-19 vaccine but officials are granting waivers when asked, at least in some cases.

A 40-year-old Japanese woman and her two children, aged 8 and 6, were successful in applying for a waiver, Christina Xenides, their lawyer, told The Epoch Times.

The application was filed on Nov. 15, 2021, and approved on March 15.

The woman had no immigration status; she was applying for residency based on marriage to a spouse who is a U.S. citizen.

"A lot of people think it’s impossible to get these waivers granted, but thus far—and when we've done them before the COVID-19 vaccine as well—we've had success in getting them approved. I definitely think it's worth applying," Xenides said.

The vaccination requirement was announced well into the COVID-19 pandemic by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which oversees legal immigration. The updated guidance requires applicants subject to medical examinations to submit proof of vaccination before completing the examinations.

USCIS based the guidance on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's determination that COVID-19 meets the definition of a quarantinable communicable disease and that a negative test "does not guarantee the applicant will not have COVID-19 at the time the applicant becomes a lawful permanent resident."

An applicant can receive a waiver if a surgeon or physician in charge of evaluating him or her decides a vaccination would not be medically appropriate, according to the USCIS. The vaccination requirement can also be waived if the applicant says getting a shot would be contrary to their religious beliefs or moral convictions.

Blanket waivers can be issued for vaccines. The USCIS said in 2021 it may issue blanket waivers, or grant waivers without applications, for certain ages or other statuses, such as for age groups that cannot get a vaccine.

Xenides, who has helped other applicants file requests for waivers, says the main documentation needed is a statement from the applicant. Letters from pastors or similar figures can help.

The lawyer, with Siri & Glimstad LLP, has only seen one request approved so far, but she expects more to be cleared.

"If it's sincere, and if they can explain what their sincerely held religious beliefs or moral objections are, then USCIS is supposed to be mindful that vaccinations do in fact offend certain persons’ religious beliefs," Xenides told The Epoch Times. "I think it’s really hard to question the sincerity of one’s religious belief if they're explaining it to you and telling you 'this is what I truly believe and these are the reasons.'"

USCIS did not respond to requests for comment, including questions regarding how many waivers it has granted for COVID-19 vaccines.

COVID-19 vaccines are generally unavailable for children under 5 years old in the United States and many other countries. Additionally, people with certain conditions, called contraindications by health authorities, are told not to get a vaccine because of concern of side effects like severe allergic shock.

A key aspect for people who object to vaccines based on religious or moral convictions and request a waiver is that they must "demonstrate opposition to vaccinations in all forms, not just certain vaccinations," according to USCIS.

For many vaccines, U.S. immigration authorities accept proof of prior infection. They do not for the COVID-19 vaccines.

Despite a push from some experts to recognize prior infection, or natural immunity, for COVID-19, U.S. health officials continue to say no tests can reliably determine whether somebody has such immunity and say prior infection cannot replace vaccination.

"I thought that was very curious because if you're going to allow antibody or titer testing to exempt someone from other vaccines then why wouldn't you also for this one?" Xenides said. "But that's the current policy, that they will allow it for other required vaccinations, but not for the COVID-19 vaccinations."

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