Tory MEP: US HIV rules are “double discrimination”

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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 an English Euro MP.

London Conservative MEP Charles Tannock, a former NHS doctor, said the proposed arrangements amount to “double discrimination.”

He has raised the issue with senior EU officials after being contacted by constituents.

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.

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 US, including applying for legal permanent residence.

Dr Tannock said that it was bad enough that people with HIV and AIDS were being singled out under the current system, but that it effectively amounted to indirect discrimination towards the gay community.

“Immigration issues are obviously up to the US authorities to decide but the proposed change in the law does not seem to make life any easier for HIV-positive people than the current legislation,” he said.

“At the moment all Britons have the right to enter the US for 90 days under the visa waiver programme, apart from those living with HIV.

“The right to a 90-day stay should be the norm for everyone, not just those who are HIV-negative.

“If the new proposal becomes law it could mean that people who are HIV-positive are denied the chance to be reunited with family members and partners, or to work or study in America.

“The measures amount to an entrenchment of discrimination, in particular because they will disproportionately affect thousands of gay and bisexual people.

“I’ve raised this issue in a written parliamentary question to the EU Commission and Council because collectively they are likely to have considerable clout with the US authorities on this particular issue.

“The US is one of the only countries to place travel restrictions on people living with HIV and AIDS.

“America’s policy places it alongside countries such as Saudi Arabia. It’s unworthy of a country like America, with which we share common values of liberty and equality.”

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 13 countries in the world, including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan, which ban travel for individuals who are HIV-positive.

In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, more than two dozen Democratic members of the US House of Representatives objected that the changes don’t lessen the burden on HIV-positive people, but instead shifted authority to “local consular officers who may lack the appropriate medical expertise.”

Veteran Senator Ted Kennedy said that the proposal offers little of value to HIV-positive applicants.

“It imposes strict requirements that unfairly limit travel to the United States,” he said after chairing a Senate health committee hearing on the Bush administration’s international AIDS efforts.

“It is mired in the past, a past where people feared HIV as a contagious disease that could not be controlled or effectively managed.”

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.”