Number of HIV-Positive Immigrants to Canada Triples in One Year, Immigration Department Says
Canada in 2003 recorded three times as many HIV-positive immigrants as the year before, according to government statistics, Canada's National Post reports. Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the country's immigration department, began requiring mandatory HIV screening for immigrants in 2002 and recorded 677 HIV-positive immigrants in 2003, a "hefty jump" from the 276 HIV-positive immigrants recorded in 2002, according to the Post. CIC can prevent an immigrant from entering the country if the person is "deemed medically inadmissible on the grounds that they would pose an extreme burden on the health care system," according to the Post. However, only 13% of HIV-positive immigrants were prevented from entering Canada in 2003 because most of the HIV-positive applicants were refugees who cannot be denied entry into the country based on their HIV status. The Canadian government exempts refugees, family-class sponsored spouses and their dependent children from the regulation, according to the Post. HIV-positive immigrants who are not exempted are assessed to determine if their health costs likely would exceed the annual health care costs of the average Canadian, which are approximately $2,500. An application is rejected if the immigrant's health care costs are projected to exceed the average amount, according to the Post.
Dr. Brian Gushulak, director-general of medical services for CIC, wrote in an internal memo obtained by the Post that the significant increase in HIV-positive immigrants recorded in 2003 "does not necessarily mean that Canada saw a large spike in infected newcomers last year," according to the Post. "Many (refugees) would have had their initial medical examinations prior to the HIV testing requirements," Gushulak wrote, adding, "The second medical examination, conducted because the initial medical validity has expired, is revealing their HIV status." James Bissett, a retired senior foreign affairs official who lobbied for immigrant HIV testing, said he is concerned about the exemptions for refugees, according to the Post. "I would have thought that once the testing came in, someone with HIV simply would not be able to meet the medical requirements," Bissett said, adding, "The long-term cost of [health care for] an HIV-positive person is staggering." Ralf Jurgens, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, has criticized the government for not considering the potential contributions that HIV-positive immigrants can make to the economy, according to the Post. "If Albert Einstein was living with HIV and on antiretroviral treatment, meaning he could live very well for 20, 30 years and be a very productive member of society, he would still be rejected under the current system," Jurgens said. CIC spokesperson Claire Despins said that the government tests immigrants not only to determine if they will be a burden but also to help them obtain treatment, according to the Post (Friscolanti, National Post, 5/13).
National Post Editorial
Canada has a "moral duty" to allow immigration for "its share" of HIV-positive refugees, but accepting too many other HIV-positive immigrants will "inevitably pose an added burden for Canada's strained health care system," a National Post editorial says. The international conventions on refugees to which Canada is a signatory "were never intended to provide safe haven only to healthy, able-bodied refugees," and the fact that Canada in 2003 accepted 87% of HIV-positive individuals seeking to immigrate into the country, the "vast majority" of whom were refugees, indicates the "seriousness with which Canada takes its humanitarian responsibilities," the Post says. However, "an eyebrow might be raised" at Canada's policy that allows HIV-positive immigrants who are not refugees to be accepted into the country, according to the Post. Currently, Canada allows immigration by individuals who are sponsored partners, dependent children, "economic migrants" or "other" immigrants -- including visitors and students -- regardless of their HIV status, according to the editorial. The health examination and HIV test for potential immigrants was instituted to "protect imposing a burden" on the Canadian health and social services system, and it is "hard to understand" how HIV-positive immigrants in these non-refugee classes "can be construed as anything other than that," the Post concludes (National Post, 5/14).