The US congressional reauthorization of PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, in July, 2008, lifted a 15-year ban on HIV-positive foreign nationals from entering the United States. On Tuesday, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) initiated the final regulatory steps toward halting implementation of the ban.
Executive Director Rachel B. Tiven of New York-based Immigration Equality says that yesterday’s action was a positive development, and that the ban, which has until now continued to classify HIV as a communicable disease that warrants exclusion from US life, is expected to be fully lifted by December.
“This is the penultimate step, but it is not the end of the road. Until the 45-day notice and comment period is concluded, and until after that, the new regulation is finally published, it will not take effect. We expect, and we hope, and we will be monitoring the implementation of the final regulation, which we hope will happen before the end of the year,” she said.
Tiven, who heads a national rights organization that advocates for equal treatment of immigrants and also gay and lesbian couples seeking to keep their families together in the United States, explains that the repeal of the HIV ban, which is the only disease ever singled out legislatively for immigration quarantine in America, has taken a year or more to implement because of standard administrative procedures followed by the US government.
“It’s standard procedure that all federal regulations have to go through, and it’s a multi-step process, and by releasing the text of the new regulations, and putting them up for what’s called Notice and Comment (a procedure that is the usual course for all new proposed regulations), the end of the HIV ban is really coming to the last big hurdle in a multi-step process,” she noted.
Tiven calls the ban “an anachronistic exclusion that was not based on good science. It was based on fear and misinformation about HIV and AIDS.”
She says the change in enforcement will mean that many immigrant students and workers, who have sought green cards for employment and ultimately American citizenship would find a much more hospitable environment in which to build their lives and also help contribute to public needs in the United States.
“It could be someone who is studying in the United States on a visa and then is offered a job, which enables them to apply for a green card, but previously, they have not been able to have taken a green card that their employer is offering them because they are HIV-positive. And if they haven’t been able to meet the very narrow grounds for a waiver, they’ve been completely excluded in the past,” she pointed out.
Tiven says that lifting of the ban will also be extremely helpful for HIV-positive skilled workers traveling to the United States for work, enabling them to contribute to the US economy as they make lives for themselves in the US without being barred by the discriminatory stigma of living with HIV.
“I think that what we know about HIV is that in encouraging people to come out of the shadows, to not be afraid, to not fear stigmatization is good for them and is good for their communities. And people should seek testing and treatment and be open and honest with themselves and their loved ones about their HIV status, and that is what contributes positively to people’s health and well-being and the health and well-being of their families,” she said.
Besides the United States, only 12 other countries around the world still enforce entry bans on HIV-positive foreign nationals wanting to visit their countries.