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Chapter 3: Waiver of Immigrant Vaccination Requirement 


A. General


An applicant seeking an immigrant visa at U.S. Consulate or an applicant seeking adjustment of status in the United States who is found inadmissible for not being vaccinated[1] See INA 212(a)(1)(A)(ii). may be eligible for the following waivers:


  • The applicant has, by the date of the decision on the visa or adjustment application, received vaccination against the vaccine-preventable disease(s) for which he or she had previously failed to present documentation;[2] See INA 212(g)(2)(A).


  • The civil surgeon or panel physician certifies that such vaccination would not be medically appropriate;[3] See INA 212(g)(2)(B). or


  • The requirement of such a vaccination would be contrary to the applicant’s religious beliefs or moral convictions.[4] See INA 212(g)(2)(C). 


Each of these waivers has its own requirements.[5] These waivers are described in more detail in Section C, Blanket Waiver for Missing Vaccination Documentation [9 USCIS-PM C.3(C)]; Section D, Blanket Waiver if Vaccine is Not Medically Appropriate [9 USCIS-PM C.3(D)]; and Section E, Waiver due to Religious Belief or Moral Conviction [9 USCIS-PM C.3(E)]. Unlike some other waivers, no qualifying relative is required for the applicant to be eligible for a waiver of the immigrant vaccination requirement.


The first two waivers are often referred to as “blanket waivers.” USCIS grants blanket waivers if a health professional indicates that an applicant has received the required vaccinations or is unable to receive them for medical reasons. If USCIS grants blanket waivers, the applicant does not have to file a form or pay a fee. 


The waiver on account of religious or moral objection must be filed on the appropriate form and accompanied by the correct fee.

B. Use of Panel Physician’s or Civil Surgeon's Report 


The determination whether an applicant is inadmissible for lack of having complied with the vaccination requirement is made by reviewing the panel physician’s or civil surgeon’s vaccination assessment in the medical examination report.[6] See Volume 8, Admissibility, Part B, Health-Related Grounds of Inadmissibility [8 USCIS-PM B] for more information on the admissibility determination.


C. Blanket Waiver for Missing Vaccination Documentation[7] See INA 212(g)(2)(A).


Applicants who received the vaccinations for which documents were missing when they initially applied for adjustment of status or for an immigrant visa may be given a blanket waiver. 


A streamlined procedure applies for this waiver; no form is needed. If a required vaccine is lacking, the officer should issue a Request for Evidence (RFE). The RFE should instruct the applicant to return to the civil surgeon for corrective action that demonstrates the applicant has received the required vaccine(s). 


If the RFE response demonstrates that the missing vaccine(s) was received, the officer will deem the waiver granted. No annotation is needed on either the medical exam form, or any related form or worksheet. 

D. Blanket Waiver if Vaccine is Not Medically Appropriate[8] See INA 212(g)(2)(B).

1. Situations Specified in the Law[9] See Volume 8, Admissibility, Part B, Health-Related Grounds of Inadmissibility, Chapter 9, Vaccination Requirement [8 USCIS-PM B.9].


If the civil surgeon or the panel physician certifies that a vaccine is not medically appropriate for one or more of the following reasons, the officer may grant a blanket waiver (without requesting a form and fee):


  • The vaccine is not age appropriate;

  • The vaccine is contraindicated;

  • There is an insufficient time interval to complete the vaccination series; or 

  • It is not the flu season, or the vaccine for the specific flu strain is no longer available.


Once the civil surgeon or panel physician annotates that the vaccine(s) is not medically appropriate, no further annotation is needed and the officer may proceed with granting the waiver. The civil surgeon’s or panel physician’s annotation on the vaccination assessment sufficiently documents that the requirements for the waiver have been met; the officer does not need to make any further annotation on the vaccination report.

2. Nationwide Vaccination Shortage[10] See Volume 8, Admissibility, Part B, Health-Related Grounds of Inadmissibility, Chapter 9, Vaccination Requirement [8 USCIS-PM B.9] for more information on blanket waivers based on a nationwide vaccination shortage.


USCIS will grant a blanket waiver in the case of a vaccination shortage only if CDC recommends that USCIS should do so, and USCIS has published the appropriate guidance on its website. CDC will only make such a recommendation to USCIS after verifying that there is indeed a nationwide vaccination shortage and issuing the appropriate statement on its website for civil surgeons. In turn, USCIS will issue the appropriate statement on its website. 


The term “nationwide vaccine shortage” does not apply to the medical examination conducted by a panel physician overseas. If a vaccine is not available in the applicant’s country, the panel physician will annotate the vaccination assessment with the term “not routinely available.” If an officer encounters this annotation, the officer may grant a blanket waiver based on this annotation alone. 


E. Waiver due to Religious Belief or Moral Conviction[11] See INA 212(g)(2)(C).

1. General


USCIS may grant this waiver when the applicant establishes that compliance with the vaccination requirements would be contrary to his or her religious beliefs or moral convictions. Unlike other waivers of medical grounds of inadmissibility, there is no requirement that CDC review this waiver.


If, upon review of the medical documentation, the officer finds that the applicant is missing a vaccine and a blanket waiver is not available, the officer should ask the applicant why the vaccine is missing. The officer may request clarification during an interview or by sending an RFE. 


If the applicant indicates that he or she does not oppose vaccinations based on religious beliefs or moral convictions, the applicant may be inadmissible if he or she refuses to obtain the missing vaccine(s). The officer should issue an RFE if the applicant is willing to obtain the vaccine.


If the applicant indicates that he or she opposes vaccinations, the officer should inform the applicant of the possibility of the waiver. The officer should explain the basic waiver requirements for a religious belief or moral conviction waiver, as outlined below. The officer should, at that time, issue an RFE[12] An officer should only issue one RFE, requesting all the necessary information, including the request for the waiver application. for the waiver application. 


Upon receipt of the waiver documentation, the officer should proceed with the adjudication of the waiver.

2. Requirements


With the adjudication of this waiver, USCIS has always taken particular caution to avoid any perceived infringement on personal beliefs and First Amendment rights to free speech and religion. To best protect the public health, USCIS, in consultation with CDC, has established the following three requirements that an applicant (or, if the applicant is a child, the applicant’s parents) has to demonstrate through documentary evidence: 


The applicant must be opposed to all vaccinations in any form.[13] The requirement that the religious or moral objection must apply to all vaccines has been in effect since 1997. The former INS created this policy in light of principles developed regarding conscientious objection to the military draft and challenges to State-mandated vaccinations for public school students. 


The applicant has to demonstrate that he or she opposes vaccinations in all forms; the applicant cannot “pick and choose” between the vaccinations. The fact that the applicant has received certain vaccinations but not others is not automatic grounds for the denial of a waiver. Instead, the officer should consider the reasons provided for having received those vaccines. 


For example, the applicant's religious beliefs or moral convictions may have changed substantially since the date the particular vaccinations were administered, or the applicant is a child who may have already received certain vaccinations under the routine practices of an orphanage. These examples do not limit the officer’s authority to consider all credible circumstances and accompanying evidence. 


The objection must be based on religious beliefs or moral convictions.


This second requirement should be handled with sensitivity. On one hand, the applicant's religious beliefs must be balanced against the benefit to society as a whole. On the other hand, the officer should be mindful that vaccinations offend certain persons' religious beliefs. 


The religious belief or moral conviction must be sincere.


To protect only those beliefs that are held as a matter of conscience, the applicant must demonstrate that he or she holds the belief sincerely, and in subjective good faith of an adherent. Even if these beliefs accurately reflect the applicant's ultimate conclusions about vaccinations, they must stem from religious or moral convictions, and must not have been framed in terms of a particular belief so as to gain the legal remedy desired, such as this waiver. 


While an applicant may attribute his or her opposition to a particular religious belief or moral conviction that is inherently opposed to vaccinations, the focus of the waiver adjudication should be on whether that claimed belief or moral conviction is truly held, that is, whether it is applied consistently in the applicant’s life. 


The applicant does not need to be a member of a recognized religion or attend a specific house of worship. Note that the plain language of the statute refers to religious beliefs or moral convictions, not religious or moral establishments. 


It is necessary to distinguish between strong religious beliefs or moral convictions and mere preference. Religious beliefs or moral convictions are generally defined by their ability to cause an adherent to categorically disregard self-interest in favor of religious or moral tenets. The applicant has the burden of establishing a strong objection to vaccinations that is based on religious beliefs or moral convictions, as opposed to a mere preference against vaccinations. 

3. Evidence 


The applicant’s objection to the vaccination requirement on account of religious belief or moral conviction may be established through the applicant’s sworn statement. In this statement, the applicant should state the exact nature of those religious beliefs or moral convictions and establish how such beliefs would be violated or compromised by complying with the vaccination requirements. 


Additional corroborating evidence supporting the background for the religious belief or moral conviction, if available and credible, should also be submitted by the applicant and considered by the officer. For example, regular participation in a congregation can be established by submitting affidavits from other members in the congregation, or evidence of regular volunteer work. 


The officer should consider all evidence submitted by the applicant.


4. Discretion


As is generally the case for waivers, a waiver of the vaccination requirement requires an officer to consider whether the grant of the waiver is warranted as a matter of discretion. 


A favorable exercise of discretion is generally warranted if the applicant establishes that he or she objects to the vaccination requirement on account of religious beliefs or moral convictions. 


F. Step-by-Step Checklist


A blanket waiver may be available to the applicant. The officer should check whether the applicant is eligible for a blanket waiver before proceeding to this checklist. 

Adjudication Vaccination Requirement Waiver

Based on Religious Beliefs or Moral Convictions

Step

If YES …

If NO …

Step 1: Review the evidence for any indication that the applicant opposes the vaccination requirement based on religious beliefs or moral convictions.

Explain (during the interview or through an RFE) the waiver requirements and request that the applicant file a waiver, if he or she has not already done so. Proceed to Step 3.

RFE or interview to ascertain reasons why vaccines were not given. Proceed to Step 2A.

Step 2A: Did the applicant oppose the vaccines?

Explain to the applicant (at interview or through RFE) the waiver requirements and request that the applicant file a waiver if not already done so. Proceed to Step 3.

Proceed to Step 2B.

Step 2B: Is the applicant willing to obtain the missing vaccine?

Issue an RFE for corrective action of the vaccination assessment. Upon receipt of response to RFE, determine whether the vaccine requirement has been met. If the applicant is still missing vaccines, and no blanket waiver is available, begin at Step 1 again. 

Applicant is inadmissible based on INA 212(a)(1)(A)(ii) (irrespective of the grant of any blanket waivers).

Step 3: Review the waiver application to determine whether the applicant opposes the vaccination requirement in any form.

Proceed to Step 4.

The waiver should be denied and the applicant is inadmissible based on INA 212(a)(1)(A)(ii) (irrespective of the grant of any blanket waivers).

Step 4: Review the waiver application to determine whether the applicant opposes the vaccination requirement on account of religious belief or moral conviction.

Proceed to Step 5. 

The waiver should be denied and the applicant is inadmissible based on INA 212(a)(1)(A)(ii) (irrespective of the grant of any blanket waivers).

Step 5: Analyze whether the waiver application reflects that the applicant’s belief is sincere. 

Proceed to Step 6.

The waiver should be denied and the applicant is inadmissible based on INA 212(a)(1)(A)(ii) (irrespective of the grant of any blanket waivers).

Step 6: Analyze whether the waiver should be granted as a matter of discretion; ordinarily, the finding that the applicant holds sincere religious or moral objections should be sufficient for a grant of the waiver.

Grant the waiver.

The waiver should be denied and the applicant is inadmissible based on INA 212(a)(1)(A)(ii) (irrespective of the grant of any blanket waivers). 





Footnotes


2. [^] 

 See INA 212(g)(2)(A).

3. [^] 

 See INA 212(g)(2)(B).

4. [^] 

 See INA 212(g)(2)(C).

5. [^] 

 These waivers are described in more detail in Section C, Blanket Waiver for Missing Vaccination Documentation [9 USCIS-PM C.3(C)]; Section D, Blanket Waiver if Vaccine is Not Medically Appropriate [9 USCIS-PM C.3(D)]; and Section E, Waiver due to Religious Belief or Moral Conviction [9 USCIS-PM C.3(E)].

6. [^] 

 See Volume 8, Admissibility, Part B, Health-Related Grounds of Inadmissibility [8 USCIS-PM B] for more information on the admissibility determination.

7. [^] 

 See INA 212(g)(2)(A).

8. [^] 

 See INA 212(g)(2)(B).

9. [^] 

 See Volume 8, Admissibility, Part B, Health-Related Grounds of Inadmissibility, Chapter 9, Vaccination Requirement [8 USCIS-PM B.9].

10. [^] 

 See Volume 8, Admissibility, Part B, Health-Related Grounds of Inadmissibility, Chapter 9, Vaccination Requirement [8 USCIS-PM B.9] for more information on blanket waivers based on a nationwide vaccination shortage.

11. [^] 

 See INA 212(g)(2)(C).

12. [^] 

 An officer should only issue one RFE, requesting all the necessary information, including the request for the waiver application.

13. [^] 

 The requirement that the religious or moral objection must apply to all vaccines has been in effect since 1997. The former INS created this policy in light of principles developed regarding conscientious objection to the military draft and challenges to State-mandated vaccinations for public school students. 




Updates


Date Details
January 28, 2014
POLICY ALERT

Health-Related Grounds of Inadmissibility and Waivers

​U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is issuing guidance in the USCIS Policy Manual on the health-related grounds of inadmissibility under INA 212(a)(1) and corresponding waivers under INA 212(g).

Read more »


Current as of July 1, 2014