Obama Lifts U.S. Ban On Foreign HIV-Positive Travelers

Obama lifts U.S. ban on foreign HIV-positive travelers

By Katherine Harmon
Scientific American, November 2, 2009

People with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) will no longer be prohibited from visiting or immigrating to the U.S., the White House announced Friday.

An entry ban, which went into effect 22 years ago when national fears over AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) had reached a fevered pitch, prevented those with HIV from entering the country by adding the virus to a list of prohibited communicable diseases. The ban was strengthened in 1993 when it was written into immigration laws, which mandated HIV-testing for those seeking permission to immigrate here.

President Obama noted in his announcement that the ban had been 'rooted in fear rather than fact,' at a time when the mechanisms of HIV's spread were still misunderstood.

'If we want to be the global leader in combating HIV/AIDS, we need to act like it,' Obama said, the Los Angeles Times reported. Due to the ban, no major conferences on AIDS have been held in the U.S. since 1990. Only a dozen or so other countries have a similar ban, The New York Times reported.

Under the ban, people with HIV could apply for a waiver to visit or move to the U.S., but complicated and lengthy processes often discouraged many, especially short-term visitors, from bothering. Waivers for immigration were available for married heterosexual couples but not for homosexual couples. Such rules often meant visiting family and friends or seeking treatment in the U.S. was impossible and discouraged others from getting tested.

'Stigma and discrimination are huge [issues] for people living with HIV,' Lance Toma, executive director of the Asian and Pacific Islander Wellness Center in San Francisco, told the San Francisco Chronicle. 'The travel ban is one that is in our laws that legalizes the stigma.'

Those in the AIDS research community have applauded the removal of the ban, despite its long time in coming. 'The ban has been lifted based on science, reason and human rights,' Kevin Robert Frost, CEO of amfAR, an AIDS research organization, told The Washington Post. 'Our hope is that this decision reflects a commitment to adopting more evidence-based policies when confronting the AIDS epidemic.'

The changes are being published in the Federal Register today and will go into effect after a standard 60-day waiting period. The Bush Administration had begun the process of lifting the ban last year, repealing aspects of the law that had prohibited student and tourists with HIV from entering the U.S. without a waiver.