Washington – Foreign nationals who are HIV-positive will find it easier starting Monday to visit the United States.
The Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention removed HIV infection from the list of diseases that prevent non-U.S. citizens from entering the country.
Advocates for HIV-positive people said the new policy was long overdue, calling it “a significant step forward for the United States.”
“The end of the HIV travel and immigration ban is the beginning of a new life for countless families and thousands who had been separated because of this policy,” said Steve Ralls, spokesman for Immigration Equality, a national rights organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and HIV-positive individuals. “This is a new beginning for them.”
The final rule was approved in November and went into effect Monday.
The new regulation takes HIV infection out of the category of “communicable diseases of public health significance,” the CDC said. It also removes required testing for HIV infection from the U.S. immigration medical screening process and eliminates the need for a waiver for entry into the United States.
Visas issued under the new regulation will not publicly identify any traveler who is positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
HIV-infected visitors previously had to obtain a special waiver from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to obtain a visa, a sometimes lengthy process. Under that process, the U.S. State Department had to make individual recommendations on HIV-positive travelers to DHS, which then conducted a case-by-case evaluation.
In fiscal year 2007, the average processing time for DHS to make decisions on such recommendations was 18 days, the federal agency said. The new rule streamlines the process, making visa authorization and issuance available to many otherwise eligible HIV-positive travelers on the same day as their interview with a U.S. consular officer.
The restrictions, President Barack Obama said in October, were “rooted in fear rather than fact.”
U.S. laws and regulations enacted since 1952 have made persons “who were afflicted with any dangerous contagious disease” ineligible to receive a visa to enter the country. People infected with HIV have been restricted since 1987, when Congress directed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to add HIV to its list of diseases of public health significance.
The United States Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Reauthorization Act of 2008, which President Bush signed on July 30, 2008, removed the statutory requirement that mandated the inclusion of HIV on the list of diseases of public health significance that barred entry in the United States.
The legislation did not, however, automatically change the existing regulations, administered by HHS, that continued to list HIV as a “communicable disease of public-health significance” and required the more cumbersome visa process.
The United States was one of 13 countries that restricted entry of HIV-positive visitors, according to amfAR, an AIDS research foundation.