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China ends its HIV travel ban

Announcement came days before opening of Shanghai Expo

On April 27, China announced that it had lifted a 20-year-old travel ban on foreign visitors with HIV, but the country’s visa application still asks people to disclose their health status.

Section 3.4 of the new Chinese travel visa application asks applicants if they have HIV. Section 3.6 says that if an applicant has noted that they are HIV-positive, they “do not lose eligibility for visa application.”

Asked for clarification, a service representative in the embassy’s Ottawa visa office said applicants only need to check off if they’re HIV-positive and to declare if they are currently receiving treatment. The representative said applicants do not need a doctor’s note or proof of the medication they are taking. HIV-positive applicants will be dealt with in the same way as those without HIV, said the service representative.

The country’s decision to lift the ban is based on science, says a statement released by the Chinese State Council. The statement says China realizes the ban doesn’t prevent or control the spread of disease, and that the ban served to create a nuisance when hosting international activities. The announcement came days before the opening of the Shanghai Expo, which has already drawn thousands of foreign visitors and international media attention.

In the past, China temporarily lifted the ban for large-scale international events like the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the 1990 Beijing Asian Games and the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. This time, the lift is permanent. Until recently, China was one of 60 countries with an HIV travel ban, along with Armenia, Brunei, Iraq, Qatar, Libya, Moldova, Oman, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. China follows the United States and South Korea, both of which permanently lifted their bans in January 2010.

On Jan 4, 2010, activist Martin Rooney of Surrey, BC became the first HIV-positive person to legally cross the US border. He says the repeal is a sign of social progress and liberation in China.

“We had thought China was [going to lift the HIV travel ban] before the US,” says Rooney. “That was the information we had last summer. I believe the reason why it happened was because of Shanghai Expo.”

But even though the ban has been repealed, it may take time for the decision to trickle down to local consulates. This is because people working at the embassies and airports need to be educated. Even the very day the US ban was lifted, border security did not know about the changes, says Rooney. He had to show border security an email he received from the White House and it still took them 20 minutes to allow him to pass, he says.

“The country can announce they’re lifting the health ban, but running through the bureaucracy takes time. You have to educate the workers,” says Rooney. “Good luck getting a call back if you’re not from the country. It’s better if you physically go down to the consulate and ask all the questions you need answered.”

For more information contact your local Chinese consulate. See ca.china-embassy.org/eng.