New Rules for HIV-Positive People Visiting U.S. More Restrictive Than Old Regulations, Critics Say
New regulations for HIV-positive people visiting the U.S. are more restrictive than the old rules , which prohibited issuance of visas to people living with HIV, critics of the rules said recently, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Under the old restrictions, HIV-positive people could visit the U.S. by applying for a waiver to the rules. According to the Chronicle, the waiver process was "cumbersome," and some critics said it was "slow, arbitrary and unfair." President Bush in December 2006 requested the waiver process be streamlined with new administrative rules. Federal authorities occasionally have granted some short-term exceptions to the rules, such as allowing HIV-positive researchers to attend scientific conferences in the U.S., according to the Chronicle.
The new rules were proposed by the Department of Homeland Security and took 11 months to draft. According to some critics, the new rules would require that visitors prove they are bringing with them to the U.S. an "adequate supply of antiretroviral medicines." However, Veronica Nur Valdes, a DHS spokesperson, said the current waiver rules already require that HIV-positive visitors "must be traveling with an adequate supply of drugs." Applicants for a waiver also would have to agree to not extend their visit to the country, and visits would be limited to two 30-day stays annually, according to Victoria Neilson, legal director for Immigration Equality. HIV-positive people who are found to be violating the rules could be permanently banned from entering the U.S. According to the Chronicle, in an effort to cut red tape, the new rules would remove a requirement that applications for a waiver be reviewed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and instead would leave waiver decisions to U.S. consular offices worldwide. A public comment period on the new rules is scheduled to expire Thursday.
According to the Chronicle, opponents of the new rules are using the deadline for public comment to criticize the rules, as well as the policy that HIV-positive people require special visas to enter the U.S.
Paul Volberding, chief of medicine at the VA Medical Center in San Francisco and an adviser to Physicians for Human Rights, said the new rules are more discriminatory than the old ones. U.S. citizens "travel to other countries for pleasure and business without restrictions," Volberding said, adding that the U.S. places "barriers against those from other countries for a chronic, treatable disease that is not casually spread." He added that requiring local consular offices to make decisions on waiver applications could fuel discrimination because applicants would have to disclose their HIV status to officials in their communities.
Susannah Sirkin, deputy director of PHR, said that only 13 nations worldwide impose similar restrictions on HIV-positive visitors. "These policies are totally counterproductive to our own country's programs to address the global AIDS crisis," she said, adding, "To put possibly more restrictive policies on the table does not serve any public health interest." Nur Valdes said the new rules will improve the process, adding that local consular offices will determine whether waiver applicants have a "controlled state of HIV infection" (Russell, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/6).