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Can You Get the COVID-19 Vaccine if You're Undocumented?

Older woman receiving a vaccine shot from a nurse.

geargodz / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Undocumented workers make up a large share of frontline workers in the U.S.
  • Essential workers are considered a COVID-19 vaccine priority group for distribution.
  • There is no federal social security or residency requirement to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine.

More than two-thirds of undocumented immigrant workers have frontline jobs considered essential to U.S. efforts against COVID-19, according to a study conducted by FWD.us, a bipartisan, pro-immigration reform organization. Yet amid a nationwide vaccine rollout, there is still pushback on whether undocumented people should be part of the COVID-19 vaccine priority plan.

Earlier this month, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts suggested that undocumented workers, especially those working in the state’s meatpacking facilities, would not be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines. “You’re supposed to be a legal resident of the country to be able to be working in those plants," Ricketts said at a press conference. "So I do not expect that illegal immigrants will be part of the vaccine with that program."

According to the Migration Policy Institute, there are over six million immigrant workers working on the frontlines and have been the hardest hit during the pandemic. “Undocumented immigrants are doing a lot of the jobs in terms of physical and manual labor," E. Nathan Harris, JD, managing attorney at Abogados Centro Legal in Alabama, tells Verywell. "And so, if we’re not vaccinating this group of people, we’re still leaving this group open."

Restricting access to the vaccine for undocumented people would leave many vulnerable to the spread and infection of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. “If you don’t test them or treat them, they will get the disease and spread it,” Ramon Tallaj, MD, doctor and founder of SOMOS Community Care in New York, tells Verywell. 

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a phased vaccine rollout plan, that includes three phases:

  • Phase 1a: Healthcare personnel and long-term care facility residents.
  • Phase 1b: Frontline essential workers and people aged 75 and older.
  • Phase 1c: People aged between 65-74 years, people aged 16-64 years with underlying medical conditions, and other essential workers in the fields of transportation, food service, housing, media, and public health professionals.

Immigrants make up a significant share of workers that are considered high priority groups for vaccination. However, whether undocumented workers will be included in this priority list will be determined on a state-by-state basis, according to Harris. “The states are in charge of rolling it out to the people,” Harris says. 

What This Means For You

Requirements for COVID-19 vaccine signup will vary depending on the state that you live in. Check your local COVID-19 vaccine signup requirements by visiting your state’s public health department website. If you are undocumented, many states are not asking for social security or proof of residence so you likely will be able to make an appointment when your turn arrives.

Getting the Vaccine if You're Undocumented

Currently, states like New York are asking for prospective vaccinators to include the following information when signing up for a vaccine slot:

  • Date of birth
  • Sex
  • Whether you work in the state where you are getting vaccinated
  • Whether you live in the state where you are getting vaccinated
  • Zipcode
  • Whether you are an essential worker

In New York, social security and residency status are not requirements when signing up for the COVID-19 vaccine, Tallaj says. Instead, people who wish to get vaccinated must fill in their date of birth, address, race, and whether they are essential workers.

Other states, like Alabama, have set up a scheduling hotline for healthcare workers, people aged 75 years or older, and first responders. To Harris’ knowledge, the state of Alabama is also not checking for social security or residency requirements either, however, it is challenging to secure the vaccine. “Unfortunately, Alabama is last in all 50 states in vaccine distribution," Harris says. "Our politicians and leaders just didn’t get a good plan together."

So far, priorities for vaccination have been made on the basis of age and occupation rather than citizenship status. 

Is It Legal To Restrict Vaccine Access?

Although vaccine prioritization is up for determination at the state-level, Harris says that discrimination against certain groups, like undocumented people, “would go against federal discrimination statutes.” 

However, there are still many gray areas when it comes to the constitutionality of excluding groups for vaccination. “Alabama has a great history of discrimination," Harris says. "We’ve seen that in different immigration bills that Alabama has tried to pass and did pass. Famously, HB56, the Beason-Hammon Immigration Act." This law allows police to legally stop, detain, or arrest if they have reasonable suspicion that a person is undocumented.

So far, Harris has not encountered clients in his own legal practice who have experienced issues where legal status was required to receive the vaccine.

For undocumented people who are healthcare or frontline workers, Harris says they would likely be protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), giving them “quasi-legal or partially legal status.”

DACA is a U.S. immigration policy that allows undocumented individuals who were brought to the U.S. as children to receive renewable deferred action from deportation on a two-year renewal basis and to be eligible for a work permit.

To date, more than 24 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the U.S. For equitable vaccine distribution, undocumented workers should be included, Tallaj says. 

Regardless of citizenship status, all people should receive the COVID-19 vaccine because the virus does not pick and choose who will get it, Tallaj says. “We don’t have [residency requirements] in school," he says. "We don’t ask them in churches. We don’t ask anywhere about citizenship or residency. We just have people, human beings.” 

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. FWD.US. FWD.us estimates show immigrant essential workers are crucial to America’s COVID-19 recovery. Updated December 16, 2020.

  2. Governor Pete Ricketts. Gov. Ricketts, Health and Human Services provide coronavirus vaccination update. Updated January 4, 2021.

  3. Migration Policy Institute. Immigrant workers: vital to the U.S. COVID-19 response, disproportionately vulnerable. Updated March 2020.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When vaccine is limited, who should get vaccinated first? Updated January 8, 2021.

  5. ACLU. Analysis of HB 56, “Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act.

  6. The White House. Preserving and Fortifying Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Updated January 20, 2021. 

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC COVID-19 data tracker. Updated January 25, 2021.