Critics argue that proposed changes to travel regulations will make it tougher for HIV-positive visitors to enter the United States, despite government promises last year that the process would be “streamlined.”
Under current US immigration law, HIV-positive foreigners can be turned away from the border, even for short-term visits. There are waivers to this rule, but obtaining one has always been difficult, according to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a New York group.
On Nov 15, the Department of Homeland Security announced changes that would allow consular offices to approve the waiver applications for HIV-positive travellers, theoretically speeding up the waiver process. But the new rules would also require applicants to give up their right to apply for a change in immigration status.
“As written, the rule could leave individuals with HIV who obtain asylum in the US in a permanent limbo — forever barred from obtaining legal permanent residence, and therefore cut-off from services, benefits, and employment opportunities,” says Nancy Ordover of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis. “It seems very disingenuous that the government is claiming to make things easier for people with HIV, but it’s really compelling them to forfeit their rights.”
The new rules would also require visitors:
- travel with all the medication needed during their stay in the US
- prove that they have medical insurance that would cover any medical contingency
- prove that they won’t engage in behaviour that would put the US public “at risk.”
The maximum term of the waiver would be 30 days.
The ban on HIV-positive travellers has been in place since 1987. On Dec 6, the DHS will make a final decision about the proposed changes.
“The United States continues to stigmatize people with HIV and treat this illness unlike any other virus,” says Victoria Neilson, legal director of Immigration Equality. “Creating insurmountable hurdles to travel does nothing to protect the American public from HIV.”
On Nov 8, China announced plans to drop its ban that prevents HIV-positive people from entering the country, but authorities have not given a timeline for when the changes will take effect.
Thirteen countries have blanket bans that prevent HIV-positive visitors from entering. Check out the map below:
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(Source: Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Nov 19, 2007)
HOW DOES CANADA COMPARE?
Canadian law and policy does not contain a blanket ban of people living with HIV/AIDS from entering the country. However, Canada does exclude people with HIV if they can be expected to place an “excessive demand” on publicly funded health and social services.
- Short-term visitors: Unless they are very ill, short-term visitors who are living with HIV/AIDS are not expected to place “excessive demands” on publicly funded health or social services and are generally allowed into Canada.
- Refugees: HIV status is generally not a barrier to entering Canada.
- Permanent residence applicants: Applicants are required to have an immigration medical exam (including an HIV test) and will be assessed to determine if they can be reasonably expected to place “excessive demands” on Canada’s health and social services.
(source: Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network)