WASHINGTON, D.C. — Following up on a promise delivered by President George W. Bush on World AIDS Day 2006, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is considering an amendment to existing regulations that prohibit the entry of HIV-positive people into the United States.
“Creating insurmountable hurdles to travel does nothing to protect the American public from HIV.”
Current immigration policy bars HIV-positive immigrants, tourists, foreign students and business people from entering the country. The proposed amendment would allow HIV-positive visitors to enter the country on short-term business or tourist visas.
Immigration Equality, an organization that works on immigration challenges and problems for LGBT Americans and foreigners, and Gay Men’s Health Crisis have taken issue with the new amendments.
In a Nov. 15 press release, the organizations said that the proposed regulations would further restrict travel for HIV-positive foreigners. The organizations charge that the new regulations only purport to aid HIV-positive visitors from other countries.
“Unfortunately, despite using the terms ‘streamlined’ and ‘categorical,’ in reality these regulations are neither,” said Victoria Neilson, legal director of Immigration Equality.
Under the new rules, a visitor would need to travel with all the medication he would need during his stay in the U.S., prove that he has medical insurance that is accepted in the U.S. and would cover any medical contingency, and prove that he won’t engage in behavior that might put the American public at risk. The maximum term of the waiver would be 30 days.
“More than two decades into this epidemic, the United States continues to stigmatize people with HIV and treat this illness unlike any other virus,” Neilson continued. “Creating insurmountable hurdles to travel does nothing to protect the American public from HIV.”
HIV-positive individuals applying to enter the U.S. through the proposed waiver process would have to agree to give up the ability to apply for any change in status while in the U.S., including applying for legal permanent residence.
“As written, the rule could leave individuals with HIV who obtain asylum in the U.S. in a permanent limbo; forever barred from obtaining legal permanent residence, and therefore cut off from services, benefits and employment opportunities,” said Nancy Ordover, assistant director of research and federal affairs for Gay Men’s Health Crisis. “It seems very disingenuous that the government is claiming to make things easier for people with HIV, because it’s really compelling them to forfeit their rights.”
According to Immigration Equality, the travel ban prohibits the entry of any foreigner with a “communicable disease of public health significance.” The clause includes those infected by HIV, as well as other diseases such as chancroid, gonorrhea, granuloma inguinale, Hansen’s disease (infectious leprosy), lymphogranuloma venereum, infectious state syphilis, and infectious tuberculosis.
The HIV travel ban traces back to 1989 when a Dutch man was denied entry to the U.S. to speak at a conference. The decision sparked an ACT-UP boycott of the sixth International Conference on AIDS in San Francisco in 1990.
The conference was eventually moved to Amsterdam to allow HIV-positive individuals to participate in the worldwide gathering of activists and leaders.
The travel ban was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993.
Other nations with a similar HIV travel ban include Armenia, Brunei, China, Iraq, South Korea, Moldavia, Russia and Saudi Arabia.