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Commentary & Opinion
Efforts to Loosen U.S. HIV/AIDS-Related Travel Restrictions "Long Overdue," Editorial Says

March 31, 2008

The recent effort to loosen "discriminatory and anachronistic" U.S. HIV/AIDS-related travel restrictions for visitors and immigrants is a "long-overdue development," according to an editorial in Toronto's Globe and Mail. According to the editorial, the restrictions from the "outset" had "more to do with politics than any serious medical concern." Although HHS in the early 1990s "sought to ease the restrictions," Congress "enshrin[ed] the ban in the Immigration and Nationality Act" following a "conservative outcry" (Globe and Mail, 3/28). A regulation included in a 1993 amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act only permits HIV-positive foreigners to obtain visas to enter the U.S. under limited circumstances. The regulation also requires HIV-positive foreigners to obtain waivers from the Department of Homeland Security before they can receive visas.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this month approved a President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief reauthorization bill (S 2731), which includes a provision that would lift some of the travel restrictions. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) has sponsored a House version of the amendment. The U.S. is one of 13 countries -- including Armenia, Iraq and Qatar -- that has such restrictions. Draft rules proposed by the Homeland Security Department that would change U.S. HIV-related travel rules have not been finalized. Some advocates and Democrats have objected to the proposed rules, saying that the rules do not improve the situation (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/25).

U.S. "lawmakers seem to be prepared to stop ignoring the available medical evidence and cease treating HIV so disproportionately, compared to most other medical conditions," the editorial says. It adds that with "apparent congressional support" for the PEPFAR reauthorization bill and "no indication" that President Bush will veto the bill, the "repeal appears likely to go through." HIV/AIDS is "no longer the mysterious super-disease that terrified the Western world in the 1980s," and people living with the disease "should not be treated as pariahs," the editorial says, adding that it is "about time" for the travel restrictions to be loosened because U.S. "politicians have taken two decades longer than everyone else to recognize this" (Globe and Mail, 3/28).

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