HIV Travel & Immigration Ban

For over twenty years, non-U.S.-citizens seeking to visit the United States or immigrate to this country have been banned from doing so if they were HIV-positive. Originally a regulation from the Dept. of Health and Human Services, it was actually codified into law by Congress in 1993. The idea, of course, is that HIV was considered to be a “communicable disease of public health significance.”

In an update to the Federal Register published today, that rule is finally being changed.

Recognizing that being HIV-positive is no longer quite the issue that it was more than fifteen years ago, the update states:

While HIV infection is a serious health condition, it is not a communicable disease that is a significant public health risk for introduction, transmission, and spread to the U.S. population through casual contact. As a result of this final rule, aliens will no longer be inadmissible into the United States based solely on the ground they are infected with HIV, and they will not be required to undergo HIV testing as part of the required medical examination for U.S. immigration.

Last year, President Bush signed into law a provision moving the authority to address this ban back to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and in June of this year the proposed rule change was announced and public comment invited. Over 19,000 comments flooded in, supporting the repeal of this ban.

Starting January 4, 2010 this rule change becomes official.

I don’t think anyone would argue that HIV and AIDS are still a big problem in this country, but it’s great to see the illness being addressed as a treatable condition that can easily be contained. The solutions to reducing or avoiding HIV transmission are certainly not a secret, and there’s no reason that HIV-positive people (no matter their national origin) should be treated as second-class citizens or public health threats.

It’s about time the federal government took a more humane and reasonable approach, and I applaud the long-overdue change.

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