Experts Discuss U.S. Law Banning HIV-Positive Foreigners From Entering Country
Some HIV/AIDS experts last week at a forum in Washington, D.C., called for changes to a U.S. law that bans HIV-positive foreigners from entering the country, the Bay Area Reporter reports (Roehr, Bay Area Reporter, 4/19). Congress in 1993 enacted legislation that prevented HIV-positive foreigners from obtaining visas or citizenship. According to the U.S. Department of State, if any foreigners traveling to the U.S., including people from countries not requiring visas, reveal that they have a "communicable disease of public health significance," they are prevented from entering the country. The same rules apply to green card applicants (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/4/06). According to the Reporter, the law can be waived on an individual basis if it is considered in the best interest of the U.S. to do so, and blanket waivers have been issued for specific events. According to J. Stephen Morrison, executive director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the policy is "misaligned with current realities and evolving U.S. interests." Phillip Nieburg -- senior associate at CSIS' HIV/AIDS Task Force and co-author of a recent CSIS report on the issue -- said there is no public health justification for the law. According to CARE President Helene Gayle, the law is not consistent with the international leadership the U.S. has demonstrated with the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. "It is just one more thing where we are out of line and inconsistent with what we are trying to do," she said. Some critics of the waiver process required for short-term visitors say that many people are not aware of their HIV-positive status when they apply for visas. In addition, visa applicants who are aware of their status likely do not want to disclose that information to state department officials because the officials or support staff could reveal it, and the application fee for the waiver can be unaffordable for people with low incomes, according to the Reporter. The Bush administration has acknowledged the concerns associated with the law (Bay Area Reporter, 4/19). President Bush in December 2006 on World AIDS Day proposed easing a provision of the law that bans HIV-positive foreigners from entering the country for visits of no more than 60 days without a special waiver. Under his proposal, Bush said he would "direct the secretary of state to request and the secretary of homeland to initiative rule making that would propose a categorical waiver for HIV-positive people seeking to enter the United States on short-term visas." It is not clear whether visitors still would be required to declare their HIV status (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/4/06). According to Tom Walsh of the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, this process is "underway." He added that the process is "complex" and that he could not give additional details. Some people have said that the delay is because of efforts to work within the boundaries of the law so that new legislation is not needed, according to the Reporter. Some supporters of the law say that HIV-positive foreigners who enter the U.S. as immigrants or short-term visitors might remain in the country and add stress to already overtaxed HIV/AIDS services (Bay Area Reporter, 4/19).
A kaisernetwork.org webcast of the forum, which was sponsored by CSIS and the Kaiser Family Foundation, is available online.
POZ in its May issue includes an article about undocumented, HIV-positive immigrants in the U.S. The article is available online.