Chicago Tribune Examines U.S. Policy That Bars Entry to HIV-Positive Foreigners
The Chicago Tribune on Wednesday examined a U.S. policy implemented in the early 1980s that bars HIV-positive nonresidents from entering the country without special permission and has "frustrated and puzzled" many health experts. According to the Immigration and Nationality Act, visas may not be granted to anyone with a "communicable disease of public health significance," including HIV, the Tribune reports (Miller Rubin, Chicago Tribune, 7/12). The U.S. government usually waives the ban for major events and conferences. The government earlier this year granted the Gay Games 2006 in Chicago Designated Event Status, which allows HIV-positive foreigners to travel to the U.S. using travel visas issued on a special form instead of being placed permanently in the applicant's passport. Travelers do not have to declare their HIV status on the application -- they can mark "N/A" on the form (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/20). Airport officials do not administer medical tests and are not supposed to detain visitors found to be carrying antiretroviral drugs, but Vishal Trivedi of the New York City-based Gay Men's Health Crisis said the practice occurs often. Cherise Miles, public information officer for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Chicago, said visitors to the U.S. usually are detained if they reveal they are living with a communicable disease of public health significance. She added that if visitors are found possessing antiretrovirals, airport officials normally consult public health officials at the airport. Critics of the ban say the rule serves to "push HIV-positive visitors underground," as many of them lie about their status to avoid being denied entry, the Tribune reports. Some Web sites offer information for HIV-positive travelers on how to avoid detection, using such strategies as packing antiretrovirals in neutral packaging or sending the drugs to the U.S. ahead of their visit. Organizations such as the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization say there is no sound reason for denying U.S. entry to HIV-positive people for a temporary stay because the disease is not spread through casual contact. According to the Tribune, "it's hard to find supporters of the policy," other than social conservative leaders, but "[f]ear of political fallout may explain why the measure lives on" (Chicago Tribune, 7/12).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.