Anger at new US restrictions on HIV+ visitors

Alternative Image

New regulations issued by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) which claim to offer a “streamlined,” “categorical” waiver for HIV-positive people visiting the country have been criticised by American AIDS activists and immigration reform advocates.

Under current US immigration law, any foreign national who tests positive for HIV is “inadmissible,” meaning he is barred from permanent residence and even short-term travel in the United States.

There are waivers available to this rule, but obtaining them has always been difficult.

The White House used World Aids Day last year to announce a change in the rules relating to people with HIV travelling into the USA.

The ban originates from 1987, when fear about the spread of the disease led US officials to require anyone with HIV to declare their status and apply for a special waiver visa.

This led to many people not declaring their status upon arrival. It also meant that no international AIDS conferences could be held on US soil.

President Bush announced that HIV+ people would be granted a “categorical waiver,” similar to the 60 day automatic visas that UK business and tourist visitors receive.

Nearly a year later, the DHS has finally issued proposed regulations which Immigration Equality, an organisation that works to end discrimination in US immigration law, claims will make it even harder to get a short-term waiver.

The new regulations purport to speed up the waiver application process because consular officers would be empowered to make decisions on waiver applications without seeking DHS sign off.

However, by using this “streamlined” application process, waiver applicants 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.

“Unfortunately, despite using the terms ‘streamlined’ and ‘categorical,’ in reality these regulations are neither,” said Victoria Neilson, Legal Director of Immigration Equality.

“More than two decades into this epidemic, the United States continues to stigmatise people with HIV and treat this illness unlike any other virus.

“Creating insurmountable hurdles to travel does nothing to protect the American public from HIV.”

Under the new rules, a visitor would need to travel with all the medication he would need during his stay in the US, prove that he has medical insurance that is accepted in the US and would cover any medical contingency, and prove that he won’t engage in

behaviour that might “put the American public at risk.”

The maximum term of the waiver would be 30 days.

United States is one of only 13 countries in the world, including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan, which ban travel for individuals who are HIV-positive.

“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, but it’s really compelling them to forfeit their rights.”

In July the European Commission quietly approved an agreement which gives the DHS unprecedented access to the personal information of anyone on a transatlantic flight, including details of their sexual orientation.

The DHS insists on the right to use the information for disease control, and there are fears that gay passengers may be singled out as possible HIV risks.

The plans involve upgrading information which is already sent by airlines to the DHS on the 4-million-plus Britons who visit the US every year, including payment details, home address and the passengers in-flight meal choice.

The agreement adds 19 possible new categories, including information on ethnic origin, political and philosophical opinions, credit card numbers, trade union membership, sex life and details of the passengers’ health.

The information will be provided by passengers when making bookings.

The US is not required to provide this information about its citizens.

Franco Frattini, vice president of the European Commission, said more sensitive information would be filtered out, and only used, “in exceptional cases, and to fight terrorism and other serious crimes.”