Opposition to restrictions on HIV+ travellers to US

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

An American organisation that works for full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV has expressed its opposition to new rules from the US government concerning HIV positive visitors.

Lambda Legal is opposing regulations proposed by the Department of Homeland Security on Issuance of a Visa and Authorisation for Temporary Admission into the United States for Certain Non-immigrant Aliens Infected with HIV.

They claim the suggested regulations continue the stigmatising discrimination against persons living with HIV, create greater barriers to their entry into the United States and significantly curtail their legal rights once in the country.

“There have been extraordinary advances in the understanding and treatment of HIV/AIDS and how it’s transmitted,” said Bebe Anderson, HIV Project Director.

“There is no medical justification to continue to treat people living with HIV as creating, by their very presence, a danger to public health.”

Dozens of Democratic members of the House of Representatives have written to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff objecting to the new arrangements.

“Applicants would still have to somehow persuade an official that they are of minimal danger, will not transmit the virus and will not cost the government money,” said the letter released Monday by California Congresswoman Barbara Lee.

“There would be no appeal process. Selecting this pathway would also require applicants to waive any right to readjust their status once in the United States – a waiver not required under current policy.”

Currently, there is a statutory bar on the admission of individuals living with HIV, but President Bush used last year’s World AIDS Day to call for a categorical waiver that would streamline the process to obtain a waiver of the bar for short-term visitors.

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.

The proposed new regulations, however, do not create a categorical waiver enabling more people living with HIV to enter the U.S on short-term visas.

Instead, the Department of Homeland Security would require an individualised, detailed, case-by-case assessment of the applicant’s medical condition, treatment regimen, HIV counselling and financial assets.

To be eligible for the slightly streamlined visa processing proposed by the draft regulations, waiver applicants would be forced to give up any right to change, extend or adjust their status while in the United States.

As a result, certain individuals, in particular those qualifying for political asylum, might be placed in immigration limbo and forever prevented from becoming United States citizens.

Lambda Legal is calling on the DHS not adopt the proposed regulations and instead significantly revise them so they would allow more people living with HIV to visit the United States and would not require those visitors to give up safeguards and rights available to other visitors.

The 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 US 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.”