US Senate will debate ban on HIV+ travellers

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

A bill authorising billions of dollars of spending on AIDS prevention in developing nations has been approved by the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The legislation includes measures to lift the current US policy which bars people who are HIV+ from entering the country.

$50 billon has been allocated under PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

The bulk of the money is for HIV prevention and AIDS treatment, but there are substantial sums to fight TB and malaria.

Countries in Africa and the Caribbean will benefit.

The bill, which also aims to relax rules that required that one-third of all prevention money be spent on abstinence programmes, will now be debated on the floor of the Senate.

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 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.

New regulations purport to speed up the waiver application process because consular officers would be empowered to make decisions on waiver applications without seeking Department of Homeland Security (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.

The United States is one of 13 countries in the world, including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan, that bans entry to individuals who are HIV-positive.