- Global Voices - https://globalvoices.org -

USA: One Step Closer to Lifting HIV Travel Ban

Categories: North America, U.S.A., Health, Human Rights, Travel

Standing AirplaneLast week the U.S. government initiated the final steps required to lift long-standing travel and immigration restrictions imposed on HIV-positive foreigners.

Under the current ban [1] HIV-positive foreigners, whether they're tourists or business travelers, can't enter the U.S., though in exceptional cases a waiver can be granted. The policy, which has been in place for more than 15 years, also prevents immigrants with HIV from becoming legal permanent residents. This is because the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) includes HIV as one of the “communicable diseases of public health significance” that bar people from entering the U.S. But last week the HHS issued [2] proposed regulations that would remove HIV from this communicable diseases list.

Many activists and bloggers are applauding the move, since it kicks off the process to repeal the ban. For instance, Erin, blogging on an aspiring midwife, says [3]:

“It took until 2009, but the government finally overturned one of the most blatantly discriminate laws legislated in the past twenty years.”

The first step to lift the ban was actually taken last July, when President George W. Bush signed a bill into law containing an amendment that would strike down the ban. But the prohibition stayed in place because HIV was still on the communicable disease list, allowing the U.S. government to stop those with HIV from entering the country. Last month, for example, HIV-positive British activist Paul Thorn was denied [4] a visa when he tried to participate in a conference taking place in Seattle. This video [5] provides more background of the ban.

While various countries [6] around the world have some travel or immigration restrictions on those with HIV, the U.S. is one of a few countries with such a restrictive policy on simply entering the country. The blog DYM SUM elaborates [7]:

“An interesting side note: only a dozen countries in the world, besides the United States, still have an HIV travel ban in place. They are Iraq, China, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Sudan, Qatar, Brunei, Oman, Moldova, Russia, Armenia, and South Korea. If you need to, read that list a second time, and think about what’s wrong there.”

In response to the news, bloggers have been sharing their experiences of trying to get into the U.S. or strategies they've heard can circumvent the travel ban. For example, The Evolution of Jeremiah, a blog from Canada, says [8]:

“I never had a problem getting into the United States. Nobody asked me, and nobody needed to know. This will be good news to travelers world wide. Hopefully this will come into effect sooner than later.”

Bobito, commenting on a blog post on Queerty, explains [9] other strategies that those with HIV have used:

“From what I've been told, if they [U.S. customs] find the antiviral medications in a traveler's luggage, they do not let the person leave the airport. There are ways to avoid this situation, such as mailing one's meds to a friend in America before you fly, and I think there are some HIV support organizations that provide some help in this, too.

I also read that, if they do a random luggage search and find antiviral meds, then they stamp HIV+ into the traveller's passport, making all future attempts to travel into countries that ban HIV+ visitors impossible, but I don't remember where I read.”

A report [10] released in June by Human Rights Watch describes how these policies can have health consequences on HIV-positive migrants. The blog Empowerment for HIV Positive Migrants and Spouses, based in Malaysia, also discusses how these restrictions can be detrimental to those with HIV. It states [11]:

“Misconception and prejudice on HIV due to lack of information still caused stigmatisation on PLHIV [People Living with HIV]. There is a trend for PLHIV who travels to countries with restrictions to stop their treatment [ART] to avoid entry ban. This step caused resistance to the treatment…

…All countries have to remember that all UN member states were signed on to the International Health Regulations which does not single out any diseases, including HIV. This regulation must be the baseline of advocacy for treatment provision in the country. Influential countries such as USA and China should take on the leadership on this regard and be a good role model for other countries when they actually eliminate the restrictions.”

Now that the HHS has posted their proposed regulations, there will be a 45 day public comment period [12] that ends on August 17. If the regulations are adopted after the comment period, they will then need to be implemented. The final timeline for implementation isn't currently known, but some activists [13] hope for something by the end of the year. The blog DYM SUM says [7] everyone will benefit if the ban is repealed and the new regulations implemented.

“This has been a lesser issue of contention in some parts of the GLBTQ [gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning] community, but – without question – is equally important to other matters that need to be addressed. Of course, it goes without saying that lifting the HIV travel ban affects not only the GLBTQ community, but the entire world as well.”

Photo of Standing Airplane [14] by Steven Fernandez [15] on Flickr.