Houston Chronicle Examines U.S. HIV/AIDS-Related Travel Restrictions
The Houston Chronicle on Sunday examined U.S. HIV/AIDS-related travel restrictions for visitors and immigrants. According to the Chronicle, the U.S. is one of 13 countries -- including Armenia, Iraq and Qatar -- that has such restrictions (Carroll, Houston Chronicle, 3/23). A regulation included in a 1993 amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act only permits HIV-positive foreigners to obtain visas to enter the U.S. under limited circumstances. The regulation also requires HIV-positive foreigners to obtain waivers from the Department of Homeland Security before they can receive visas.
Draft rules proposed by the Homeland Security Department that would change U.S. HIV-related travel rules have not been finalized. Some advocates and Democrats have objected to the proposed rules, saying that the rules do not improve the situation (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/12).
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this month approved a President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief reauthorization bill (S 2731), which includes a provision that would lift some of the travel restrictions, the Chronicle reports. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) has sponsored a House version of the amendment.
Although the provision is attached to the PEPFAR reauthorization bill, supporters are cautiously optimistic, the Chronicle reports. If the provision is approved, HHS will then need to decide whether HIV/AIDS should remain on a list of diseases preventing entry into the country, according to the Chronicle. HHS officials did not return calls seeking comment on the issue.
According to the State Department, 938 immigration applicants were denied admission to the U.S. in 2007 because of a communicable disease; however, 478 of the applicants later received waivers and were permitted entry. A breakdown of the applicants' diseases was not available, according to Steven Royster, a State Department spokesperson. According to the Chronicle, the U.S. requires HIV tests only for people who plan to immigrate permanently, but short-term visitors are asked whether they have a communicable disease during the visa application process.
Supporters of the amendment have said a repeal of the travel ban is overdue. "There is no scientific basis whatsoever for the travel ban, and there never has been," Mark Kline, head of retrovirology at Baylor College of Medicine and director of the school's AIDS International Training and Research Program, said. He added that the travel ban was a "political decision." In addition, the ban has led to a U.S. boycott by some HIV/AIDS advocacy and research groups, and International AIDS Society conferences have not been held in the U.S. since Congress passed the travel restrictions.
Kline said that the travel restrictions could indirectly lead to the spread of the virus through increased stigma, adding that the restrictions could cause people living with the virus to avoid seeking treatment. "We know that treatment can suppress the virus in the body and actually contribute to prevention by making people with HIV less likely to transmit the virus," Kline said, adding that if a country has laws or policies that prevent people from "testing, from acknowledgement of the infection and treatment, you actually help to perpetuate and promote the spread of the disease" (Houston Chronicle, 3/23).