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US ban on HIV+ travellers challenged by MEPs and Senators

PinkNews Staff Writer March 12, 2008

The Lib Dems are calling on EU members states to raise the current American policy on HIV+ visitors to the United States at tomorrow’s meeting of justice and security ministers.

On Friday the same issue will be raised in the US Senate.

The Committee on Foreign Relations is due to discuss the ban after Senators John Kerry and Republican Gordon Smith added a provision to repeal the ban to Senate legislation to reauthorising PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

Under current US immigration law, any foreign national who tests positive for HIV is “inadmissible,” meaning he is barred from permanent residence and even short-term travel in the United States.

There are waivers available to this rule, but obtaining them has always been difficult.

Deborah Jack of the National AIDS Trust said:

“It is very good news to hear that the US travel and immigration ban for people living with HIV will be reconsidered this week.

“People in the UK should no longer be subjected to discriminatory laws that restrict their travel to the US based on HIV status.

“Such a law only breeds stigma and discrimination.

“I hope that Senators John Kerry and Gordon Smith’s efforts to repeal this ban are successful and that people living with HIV can enjoy the freedom of movement we are all entitled to.”

The ban originates from 1987, when fear about the spread of the disease led US officials to require anyone with HIV to declare their status and apply for a special waiver visa.

New regulations purport to speed up the waiver application process because consular officers would be empowered to make decisions on waiver applications without seeking Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sign off.

However, by using this “streamlined” application process, waiver applicants would have to agree to give up the ability to apply for any change in status while in the US, including applying for legal permanent residence.

Tomorrow EU and US justice and security ministers are meeting, and MEPs are demanding that the issue of visa waivers for HIV+ people travelling to America should be raised.

Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP, Liberal Democrat European Justice and Human Rights spokeswoman, told PinkNews.co.uk:

“The EU should fight, in unison, not only for citizens from all 27 EU countries to get visa-free travel for US trips, but for that to happen on a non-discriminatory basis.

“Our leaders should not tolerate that their HIV-positive citizens are bracketed with criminals or treated like modern day lepers. To put HIV on a par with infectious diseases like tuberculosis in any case betrays medical ignorance.

“We have wonderful human rights clauses in the EU treaties which commit EU institutions and governments to strive for the respect of equality and fairness.

“But while they will attempt to ensure that no-one suffers discrimination on grounds of nationality, they have proved so far reluctant to do the same for people with HIV.

“I am launching with MEP colleagues a petition to the European Parliament to press for inclusion in the European Commission negotiating mandate with the US of the objective of full visa waiver for people with HIV.”

The United States is one of 13 countries in the world, including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan, that bans travel for individuals who are HIV-positive.

In July 2007 the European Commission quietly approved an agreement which gives the DHS unprecedented access to the personal information of anyone on a transatlantic flight, including details of their sexual orientation.

The DHS insists on the right to use the information for disease control, and there are fears that gay passengers may be singled out as possible HIV risks.

The plans involve upgrading information which is already sent by airlines to the DHS on the 4-million-plus Britons who visit the US every year, including payment details, home address and the passengers in-flight meal choice.

The agreement adds 19 possible new categories, including information on ethnic origin, political and philosophical opinions, credit card numbers, trade union membership, sex life and details of the passengers’ health.

The information will be provided by passengers when making bookings.

The US is not required to provide this information about its citizens.

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