Mental health restrictions on immigration and how to overcome them
Any person arriving in the United States with a temporary visa or a permanent resident card, commonly known as a green card, must prove that he or she does not pose a health risk to the general public. The requirements are called health-related grounds of inadmissibility. People may be refused entry to the U.S. if:
- They have a significant communicable disease
- Lack required vaccinations
- Have a physical or mental disorder with behavior that may be harmful to others
- Have a history of drug abuse or addiction
Waivers are available for all grounds of inadmissibility except drug abuse and addiction. The visa and green card application forms include questions regarding mental disorders, and the required medical examination also includes mental health questions. For those applying from outside the U.S., a medical examination must be performed by a physician certified by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
A person with a mental disorder that produces behavior harmful to property, safety or public welfare may be denied admission. Mental illness without accompanying harmful behavior is not grounds for inadmissibility. Harmful behavior is defined as:
- Psychological or physical injury to oneself or others, such as a suicide attempt or pedophilia
- A threat to health or safety, such as driving while intoxicated
- Causing property damage
A person who has had a harmful disorder in the past and is currently well may be deemed inadmissible if the disorder is likely to recur. If a person has no history of mental illness but does have a history of assaults and domestic violence involving drugs or alcohol, then the law may require a mental health examination, which could result in inadmissibility.
A record of alcohol-related offenses such as DUIs can lead to a referral to a physician to determine whether an alcohol-related physical or mental condition is present. The law requires that U.S. immigration officials consult with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in determining a physical or mental disorder.
There are two ways of overcoming inadmissibility based on a mental disorder. One involves presenting immigration officials with as much documentation as possible to demonstrate that the condition does not trigger any threatening or harmful behavior. This includes prognoses from mental health professionals asserting that a person’s disorder is not linked to dangerous behavior or that such behavior can be controlled or maintained.
If such documentation is not readily available, or a person has displayed dangerous or threatening behavior in the past, they may seek a waiver of the mental disorder bar. U.S. immigration authorities have the power to declare “forgiveness” to allow an immigrant to enter the U.S. despite something that would normally present an obstacle. Those with mental illness can apply to the Department of Homeland Security for a waiver but must present a detailed medical report explaining the condition, why harmful behavior will not recur and what treatment plan the person will follow to ensure that it does not.
Applicants with mental illness may have poor financial circumstances, which may affect the likelihood of admission. In such cases, a family member or friend in the U.S. can act as their sponsor and sign an affidavit that the person will not rely on government financial assistance. The signed form renders the sponsor liable if public assistance is needed.
Sovereign Health treats mental illness. Our therapists provide compassionate care using state-of-the-art treatment methods. For more information, call our 24/7 helpline.
Written by Veronica McNamara, Sovereign Health Group writer