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Health Issues Impede Green Card Applicants

A green card is a permit that allows a non-citizen to permanently live and work in the United States, thus becoming a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR). An otherwise eligible immigrant’s application can be denied by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for several reasons. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act § 212, there are multiple grounds for inadmissibility, including specific health issues.  Even after an individual acquires LPR status, the grounds of inadmissibility can be a basis for refusing entrance into the U.S. after traveling abroad.  If an applicant is denied a green card, or an individual who already holds one is later determined inadmissible, there are waivers which, if granted, allow for LPR status despite the inadmissibility ground.

To determine if an individual may meet inadmissibility grounds based on health issues, all green card applicants must undergo a medical examination by a government-approved doctor.  The exam can be completed in a foreign country or in the U.S.  This is to ensure that individuals do not have dangerous communicable diseases, have the required vaccinations, and are not using illegal drugs.  Some of the vaccinations applicants must have are measles, polio, mumps, influenza, pertussis, hepatitis A and B, pneumococcal pneumonia and meningococcal disease, tetanus, diphtheria, rotavirus, and varicella.  The Committee on Immunization Practices can amend this list as they see fit.

A physical or mental disorder which is considered a threat to others’ safety and property can also be a bar to getting a green card.  For a denial, the disorder must be one that can be clinically diagnosed, and, the behavior of the disorder may threaten the safety of the applicant or other individuals, or others’ property.  The concerns over granting a green card to an individual who meets these two criteria are the safety of others, and the possibility of the applicant becoming a financial burden on the U.S. due to their physical or mental disorder.

If an individual is deemed inadmissible based on these health concerns, he or she may be able to apply for a waiver.  Waivers were created because sometimes family unity outweighs public health interests.  If an individual is granted a waiver, one of the requirements is to seek treatment for the illness so that the risk to the public is decreased. One of the waivers applies to individuals with communicable diseases.  The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) must consult with the Center for Disease Control about the individual petition for the waiver before making its discretionary determination.  Additionally, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services can delist previous illnesses considered to be communicable diseases, such as in 2010, when HIV was no longer considered to be a ground for health-related inadmissibility.

Another waiver available allows those that do not meet the vaccination requirements to go forward with applying or maintaining LPR status.  The reasons for granting this waiver include when a petitioner’s religious or moral beliefs prevent him or her from vaccination, the vaccinations were given after the original paperwork was filed, or the vaccine(s) would be medically inappropriate.

The last waiver is for physical or mental disorders which pose a risk of harmful behavior.  For the physical or mental disorder waiver, generally the individual is required to seek medical treatment to remedy or contain the illness.  The petitioner may also be required to put up a bond just in case they are found liable for injuries or damages after attaining LPR status.  Drug abuse and addiction are not considered a physical or mental disorder, but are in a group by themselves.  Although there is not a true waiver for drug abuse and addiction, if an individual is found to be in remission and undergoes a successful re-examination, this inadmissibility ground will no longer apply.

If you want to apply for a green card, or have other immigration issues, the assistance of an experienced immigration attorney can help protect your legal rights.  If you are seeking help on immigration matters or would like to apply for a green card, call the experienced attorneys at Bretz & Coven, LLP at (212) 267-2555.     


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