Current Affairs

European Parliament demands US reconsider HIV ban

Tony Grew May 22, 2008
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An amendment urging the European Commission to raise the issue of people with HIV being exempted from entry into the US visa waiver programme has been passed by MEPs.

It formed part of a larger resolution, which was approved by 511 votes to 29, on a range of visa issues between the US and the EU.

Currently the EU is involved in visa negotiations with the US authorities to secure visa-free travel (visa waiver) for EU citizens from all 27 member states.

The European Parliament resolution states that any formal agreement on repatriation of EU citizens should be acceptable only on the basis of reciprocity and obligations relating to the possible introduction of an electronic system for travel authorisations for US citizens travelling to the EU.

Amendment 3a, which passed by 309 to 218, urges the EC to:

“Include in the negotiations the exclusion of Europeans with HIV from the visa waiver programme, and ensure equal treatment of all EU citizens; agrees with the Commission that there are no objective reasons for a travel ban for HIV infected persons.”

Last month Liberal Democrat MEP Baroness Sarah Ludford launched an online campaign to end the American policy which effectively bars HIV positive people from entering the country.

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.

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 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.

Deborah Jack of the National AIDS Trust said: “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.”

Since the Amsterdam Treaty in 1999, the Council (heads of government) has been responsible for establishing the rules on visas, including the list of third countries whose nationals must be in possession of a visa or are exempt from the visa requirement.

Last month the Council decided to give the Commission a formal mandate to negotiate with the US on all Community-related issues.

MEPs raised the issue that US citizens are exempt from EU visa requirements yet a comparable exemption does not apply to all EU citizens, as the US still maintains the visa requirement for nationals of  Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

“The rate of visa refusal, which is based on non-transparent criteria, is greater than 10% of applications,” the resolution stated.

“Any form of direct or indirect discrimination between European citizens on the grounds of their nationality should be prohibited not only inside the European Union, as laid down in Article 12 of the EC Treaty, but also outside the European Union, notably when such discrimination is the consequence of a lack of coordination in international negotiations between the EU institutions and Member States.”

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.

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