US accused of not overturning ban on HIV+ visitors

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

A New York-based LGBT immigration pressure group has accused the US government of failing to follow a new policy on HIV+ people visiting the country.

In July President Bush signed the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) Act, which lifts the ban on HIV positive people from entering the United States. The bulk of the legislation aims to fight AIDS in the developing world.

At present any foreign national who tests positive for HIV is “inadmissible,” meaning he or she is barred from permanent residence and even short-term travel in the United States.

Yesterday the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it will issue regulations which purport to “streamline” the waiver application process for HIV-positive short-term visitors.

“The timing of these regulations is deeply troubling,” said Victoria Neilson, Legal Director of Immigration Equality.

“In July, Congress issued a bipartisan message to this Administration – remove HIV as a barrier to travel and immigration.

“Instead of simply ending the HIV travel ban, the administration is again treating HIV differently from any other medical condition.”

Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who led the repeal effort in the House of Representatives, said:

“I am disappointed that the Administration has decided to move ahead and finalise this rule to clarify the visa waiver process for HIV positive short term visitors to the United States.

“The rule itself remains fundamentally flawed because it is grounded on an unjust and discriminatory policy that has no basis in public health.”

Immigration Equality said that under the new rules a short-term traveller must meet twelve stringent criteria “that impose unnecessary burdens on HIV+ travellers and continue to stigmatise those living with HIV. Some criteria are inconsistent with current medical knowledge of HIV transmission and treatment.”

Visitors who take up the waiver do not have the right to apply for a green card from within the United States – even if he or she marries a U.S. citizen.

Department of State consular officers will make decisions on waivers without sending them to DHS for approval.

“We are on the eve of lifting this ban once and for all. Why is the Administration setting new waiver requirements in stone now?” said Ms Neilson.

“The time has come for this Administration to finish the job that Congress started this summer. It’s time to lift the HIV ban.”

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 visa.