Bush Orders Easing of Travel Restrictions on HIV-Positive Foreigners

On December 1st, World AIDS Day, President Bush issued an executive order to the Secretary of State that may ultimately change rules that prohibit HIV-positive foreigners from entering the United States unless they are granted a special waiver.  Bush’s order does not change current immigration law but initiates a rule-making process that could create a categorical waiver for business or tourist visas for up to 60 days.  The United States is one of only approximately 15 countries worldwide that place a travel ban on HIV-positive foreigners, including China, Iraq, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.1

A travel ban waiver for HIV-positive foreigners has been in place since 1993 when Congress enacted the National Immigration and Nationality Act.  According to the Act, foreigners traveling to the United States, including those not requiring a visa for entry, who reveal that they have a “communicable disease of public health significance,” are barred from entering the United States.  Congress included HIV as a dangerous communicable disease, despite recommendations from the Department of Health and Human Services that only infectious tuberculosis should be used to exclude foreign visitors and immigrants.2

Under current regulations, travelers can apply to a U.S. Embassy for a short-term waiver for either up to 10 or 30 days in order to attend conferences, conduct business, receive medical treatment, or visit family members.3  The Department of State also has the authority to issue “blanket waivers” for HIV-positive travelers who are attending certain U.S. conferences or international sporting events.4  Earlier this year, for example, the federal government designated the Gay Games 2006 as a special event for which participants could apply for the blanket waiver.5  Once a traveler has asked to be included under a blanket waiver, however, the individual must obtain a waiver every time he/she wishes to enter the United States.6

Advocates have severely criticized the ban as violating human rights and have pointed to the potentially deleterious effects for travelers who return to their nations of origin with a marked passport disclosing their HIV status.7  Additionally, several British studies have illustrated the adverse effects of the current policy on visitors’ mental health as well as on their adherence to  HIV drug protocols as travelers may purposefully not bring medication with them as part of an effort to hide their HIV status. 

President Bush’s order has received praise from the HIV/AIDS community as an initial step in removing all restrictions on HIV-positive immigrants. “It’s a step away from a terribly discriminatory and inappropriate policy, but it doesn’t go far enough,” explained Leonard Rubenstein, executive director of Physicians for Human Rights. “If you want to remove stigma from AIDS, you have to go for the whole distance and eliminate all restriction on entry to the United States for people with HIV.”8

Representative Barbara Lee (D-California) has said that she will introduce legislation in the 110th Congress to overturn the ban.9

For more information about the current travel ban, see Global Health Council’s Policy Brief: End Restriction on Travel to theOn December 1st, World AIDS Day, President Bush issued an executive order to the Secretary of State that may ultimately change rules that prohibit HIV-positive foreigners from entering the United States unless they are granted a special waiver.  Bush’s order does not change current immigration law but initiates a rule-making process that could create a categorical waiver for business or tourist visas for up to 60 days.  The United States is one of only approximately 15 countries worldwide that place a travel ban on HIV-positive foreigners, including China, Iraq, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.10

A travel ban waiver for HIV-positive foreigners has been in place since 1993 when Congress enacted the National Immigration and Nationality Act.  According to the Act, foreigners traveling to the United States, including those not requiring a visa for entry, who reveal that they have a “communicable disease of public health significance,” are barred from entering the United States.  Congress included HIV as a dangerous communicable disease, despite recommendations from the Department of Health and Human Services that only infectious tuberculosis should be used to exclude foreign visitors and immigrants.11

Under current regulations, travelers can apply to a U.S. Embassy for a short-term waiver for either up to 10 or 30 days in order to attend conferences, conduct business, receive medical treatment, or visit family members.12  The Department of State also has the authority to issue “blanket waivers” for HIV-positive travelers who are attending certain U.S. conferences or international sporting events.13  Earlier this year, for example, the federal government designated the Gay Games 2006 as a special event for which participants could apply for the blanket waiver.14  Once a traveler has asked to be included under a blanket waiver, however, the individual must obtain a waiver every time he/she wishes to enter the United States.15

Advocates have severely criticized the ban as violating human rights and have pointed to the potentially deleterious effects for travelers who return to their nations of origin with a marked passport disclosing their HIV status.16  Additionally, several British studies have illustrated the adverse effects of the current policy on visitors’ mental health as well as on their adherence to  HIV drug protocols as travelers may purposefully not bring medication with them as part of an effort to hide their HIV status. 

President Bush’s order has received praise from the HIV/AIDS community as an initial step in removing all restrictions on HIV-positive immigrants. “It’s a step away from a terribly discriminatory and inappropriate policy, but it doesn’t go far enough,” explained Leonard Rubenstein, executive director of Physicians for Human Rights. “If you want to remove stigma from AIDS, you have to go for the whole distance and eliminate all restriction on entry to the United States for people with HIV.”17

Representative Barbara Lee (D-California) has said that she will introduce legislation in the 110th Congress to overturn the ban.18

For more information about the current travel ban, see Global Health Council’s Policy Brief: End Restriction on Travel to the US by People with HIV at www.globalhealth.org.

References

  1. End Restrictions on Travel to the U.S. by People with HIV, (Washington , DC: Global Health Council, November 2006), accessed 21 December 2006, <www.globalhealth.org >.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. “U.S. Law Banning HIV-Positive Foreigners from Entering Country Harming Testing Efforts, Panel Members Say,” Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, November 22, 2006, accessed 21 December 2006, <http://www.kaisernetwork.org/daily_reports/rep_index.cfm?hint=1&DR_ID=41217 >.
  5. “Chicago Tribune Examines U.S. Policy that Bars Entry to HIV-Positive Foreigners,” Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, July 12, 2006, accessed 21 December 2006, <http://www.kaisernetwork.org/daily_reports/rep_index.cfm?hint=1&DR_ID=38429>.
  6. Global Health Council, End Restrictions on Travel to the U.S. by People with HIV.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Sabin Russell, “Bush to Ease Rule Limiting HIV-positive Foreign Visitors,” San Francisco Chronicle, 02 December 2006, accessed 21 December 2006, <http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/12/02/MNGKFMO1ST1.DTL >.
  9. “U.S. Law Banning HIV-Positive Foreigners from Entering Country Harming Testing Efforts.”
  10. End Restrictions on Travel to the U.S. by People with HIV, (Washington , DC: Global Health Council, November 2006), accessed 21 December 2006, <www.globalhealth.org >.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. “U.S. Law Banning HIV-Positive Foreigners from Entering Country Harming Testing Efforts, Panel Members Say,” Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, November 22, 2006, accessed 21 December 2006, <http://www.kaisernetwork.org/daily_reports/rep_index.cfm?hint=1&DR_ID=41217 >.
  14. “Chicago Tribune Examines U.S. Policy that Bars Entry to HIV-Positive Foreigners,” Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, July 12, 2006, accessed 21 December 2006, <http://www.kaisernetwork.org/daily_reports/rep_index.cfm?hint=1&DR_ID=38429>.
  15. Global Health Council, End Restrictions on Travel to the U.S. by People with HIV.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Sabin Russell, “Bush to Ease Rule Limiting HIV-positive Foreign Visitors,” San Francisco Chronicle, 02 December 2006, accessed 21 December 2006, <http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/12/02/MNGKFMO1ST1.DTL >.
  18. “U.S. Law Banning HIV-Positive Foreigners from Entering Country Harming Testing Efforts.”

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