Campaigning MEP delighted at US vote to remove HIV+ travel ban

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A Liberal Democrat politician who led a campaign for the abolition of a ban on HIV+ travellers to the US has said she is “delighted” that the Senate has voted to end the current restrictions.

London MEP Baroness Sarah Ludford lobbied for the abolition of HIV discrimination as a principal goal in EU visa negotiations with the US.

“As a campaigner on this issue I’m delighted that the Senate’s ruling has cleared the way the end to this discriminatory, unjustified and out-dated policy, though not a moment too soon,” she said.

“I’m gratified that EU pressure led by Euro-MPs has contributed to this outcome.

“The Bush administration should act quickly now to restore visa waiver rights to individuals with HIV/AIDS and stop treating them as second class citizens.”

Last month the EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot wrote to US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff challenging the justification for the US policy.

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.

MEPs have kept pressure on the Commission over the issue as the EU is in negotiations with the US authorities to secure visa-free travel (a visa waiver) for citizens from all 27 member states.

Last week the US Senate authorised $50 billon (£25bn) for PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, by 80 votes to 16.

Republican Senator Gordon Smith and Democratic Senator Kerry attached an amendment to a bill repealing current US immigration law.

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.

In May the European Parliament passed a resolution demanding the ongoing negotiations include the exclusion of Europeans with HIV from the visa waiver programme, and ensure equal treatment of all EU citizens.