HIV status and entry into the US

Two news articles have come across my desk within the past 24 hours related to HIV and entry into the US.  I didn’t realize that the United States finds HIV status reason to bar entry into this country.

First, the ELCA issued this press release:


July 15, 2008

Women of ELCA, GME Guest Endures Immigration Process, Arrives in U.S.


SALT LAKE CITY (ELCA) — Azur Riki was one of several international guests invited to the Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Seventh Triennial Gathering here July 10-13, to share stories about her life and church. But getting here was an endurance test for Riki, who worked through the complexities of the U.S. immigration system, made even more complex because she is living with HIV.

Riki, a member of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria, lives in Jos, Nigeria. She arrived here July 12 after she was granted a visa by the U.S. embassy in Abuja, Nigeria. Riki had traveled to the U.S. embassy three times to get a visa beginning with her first visit June 18, and was denied each time, she said in an interview with the ELCA News Service. She was notified on July 10 that her visa was granted, after she and others thought her visa request would not be approved. ELCA staff helped arrange her trip to the United States.

Riki will also be a guest and speaker at the ELCA Global Mission Event, July 17-20, at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse.

Riki is a widow with two children, ages 5 and 11. Her husband was HIV positive and died in 2002. She is supporting herself and her family today, thanks to the programs of the Mashiah Foundation, Jos. The foundation operates a holistic HIV/AIDS education, prevention, testing, counseling and health program ministry, including the Women of Hope Program, which serves 140 women who are HIV-positive. The foundation is supported by gifts from ELCA congregations and through ELCA Global Mission.

The Mashiah Foundation receives funds from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a program initiated under U.S. President George W. Bush. The ELCA supports PEPFAR, which must be reauthorized this year, and has advocated for increased funding and policies in a new bill.

This week the U.S. Congress is expected to take up global AIDS reauthorization, said Kim Stietz, director for international policy, ELCA Washington Office. One of the improved policies in the proposed PEPFAR reauthorization is repeal of the permanent travel ban against people living with HIV, she said. The ELCA, through its Washington Office, and 16 other churches and church organizations signed a letter last week urging U.S. Senators to repeal the travel ban.

People living with HIV, such as Riki, can be considered for certain types of visas to enter the United States, but the process is laborious and complicated, Stietz said. In Riki’s case, she traveled to Lagos, a 12-hour journey, and to Abuja, a three-hour journey, multiple times to secure the proper documents but was denied an entry visa, she said. That is until staff of the U.S. State Department apparently intervened, following efforts by ELCA staff and others working on Riki’s behalf. Riki is not the only Nigerian who has faced this difficulty with visas, said Bayo Oyebade, director, Mashiah Foundation.

“The irony is that individuals like Riki are literally alive because of the AIDS treatment they received through PEPFAR, yet they’re being denied the opportunity to tell Americans how good the program is because they’re HIV positive,” Stietz said. “There’s no public health justification for placing travel restrictions on HIV positive people.”

“It (the law) only increases stigma and discrimination against people who are HIV positive. We know how to prevent the spread of the disease — it’s through education and prevention not border control,” Stietz said.

After many unsuccessful efforts to get Riki to this summer’s ELCA events, no one is entirely sure why Riki was suddenly granted a visa to enter the United States, Stietz said. But she is grateful.

“I’m really happy to get myself here,” Riki said. “I never dreamed I would be in this country. It’s not easy for a woman living with HIV. But I thank God because of the Mashiah Foundation. That is how I got to America today. I thank God for PEPFAR. They have provided the drugs for us to take, and to take care of our health.”

Then, I ran across this article by the AP:

US ban on visitors with HIV could end soon

By JIM ABRAMS, Associated Press Writer Wed Jul 16, 6:29 AM ET

WASHINGTON – A two-decade ban on people with HIV visiting or immigrating to the United States may end soon through a Senate bill aimed at fighting AIDS and other diseases in Africa and other poor areas of the world.

The U.S. is one of a dozen countries — including Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Russia — that ban travel and immigration for HIV-positive people.

Even China, said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., recently changed that policy, deciding it was “time to move beyond an antiquated, knee-jerk reaction” to people with HIV.

“There’s no excuse for a law that stigmatizes a particular disease,” Kerry said Tuesday at a speech to the Center for Strategic & International Studies HIV/AIDS Task Force. Even people with avian flu or the Ebola virus have an easier time than those with HIV when it come to applying for visas, he said.

Kerry and Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., are trying to repeal the ban, first implemented in 1987 and confirmed by Congress in 1993. The two have attached their measure to legislation — which the Senate may pass this week — that would provide $50 billion over the next five years to fight AIDS and other diseases in Africa and other poor areas.

Foreign citizens, students and tourists can apply for a difficult-to-obtain special waiver for short-term visits, but an HIV-positive person has little chance of obtaining permanent residency.

Under current law, HIV is the only medical condition explicitly listed under immigration law. The Kerry-Smith provision would make HIV equivalent to other communicable diseases where medical and public health experts at the Health and Human Services Department — not consular officials at U.S. embassies — determine eligibility for admission.

Those with HIV seeking legal permanent residency would still have to demonstrate they have the resources to live in this country and would not become a “public charge.”

The HIV ban was “adopted during a time of widespread fear and ignorance about the HIV virus,” said Allison Herwitt, legislative director of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay and lesbian civil rights group.

Among the consequences, experts on HIV and AIDS who are themselves infected have been unable to attend conferences in the U.S. Students and refugees in the country who may be at risk of infection have been reluctant to seek testing or treatment.

“Health care professionals, researchers and other exceptionally talented people have been blocked from the United States,” some 160 health and AIDS groups said recently in a letter urging Congress to end the current policy. “Since 1993, the International Conference on AIDS has not been held on U.S. soil due to this policy.”

Herwitt said some HIV-positive people seeking visas lie on their applications and then don’t bring their medications. “It’s not only wrongheaded and discriminatory, but can also cause people to not tell the truth.”

Both President George H.W. Bush and President Clinton sought to ease the policy and in 2006 the current President Bush asked the Homeland Security Department to streamline the waiver process. Congress so far has not gone along.

There’s still opposition.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., may offer an amendment to eliminate the Kerry-Smith provision from the Senate bill. Sessions cited Congressional Budget Office estimates that the new immigrants coming in under the relaxed policy could cost the government more than $80 million over a 10-year period. “Most people just don’t want to talk about that.”

Sessions said the Health and Human Services Department already has considerable flexibility to grant entry visas.

The measure would offset the costs of new immigrants by raising the price of applying for a visitor’s visa by $1 for three years and then $2 for the next five years.

The House version of the Africa AIDs bill does not have the travel and immigration provision, but advocates said it will be included in the final version of the bill that goes to the president.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., is sponsoring companion legislation in the House.

The Africa AIDS bill is S. 2731.

Pondering Pastor


3 responses to “HIV status and entry into the US

  1. So then where is the bill to allow people with Chancroid, Gonorrhea, Granuloma Inguinale,
    Lymphogranuloma Venereum, and Syphilis
    into the USA? They are currently denied entry also. Is there some reason that people with HIV are more deserving of special treatment than people with these conditions? There couldn’t be some sort of agenda here could there? Where is the outcry that people with Syphilis being denied entry would ” only increases stigma and discrimination against people who have Syphilis”?


    There are some simple steps all HIV-positive tourists can take regardless of their destinations to minimize chances of undue customs delays or outright deportation:

    * Look healthy. Travelers who appear to be ill are likely to be targeted for indepth questioning or inspections.

    * Be discreet and polite.Don’t draw any undue attention to yourself that could cause customs officials to pull you aside.

    * Don’t advertise the fact that you’re HIV-positive. It pains me to have to give that kind of advice, but you might not want to wear a PLWHA t-shirt.

    * Keep your anti-HIV medications in their original bottles, and do not attempt to hide the containers. If you’re hiding them customs officials may think they contain contraband and may hold you to verify that they are permitted into the country.Opening packages or taking pills out of their prescription bottles will delay your time in security(more info).

    *Pack extra medicine and supplies when traveling in case you are away from home longer than you expect or there are travel delays.

    *If you are taking injectable medications (e.g., Fuzeon, insulin, testosterone) you must have the medication along with you in order to carry empty syringes(more info).

    *Depending on the circumstances it may be worthwhile taking along a doctor’s certificate (in English) which shows that the holder is reliant on the medication and that it has been prescribed by the doctor.Carry a copy of your prescriptions in your carry-on, purse, or wallet when you travel.

    *You can ask and are entitled to a private screening to maintain your confidentiality. Show copies of your prescriptions and/or your medication bottles and if you have any problems ask to see a supervisor.

    In general, the above points apply to entering countries with ambiguous or restrictive regulations: as long as HIV positive status does not become known, there will be no serious problems for a tourist. However, if someone is suspected of being HIV positive, or if the authorities have concrete reasons to believe they are, entry may be refused. Since october 2008 non-immigrant US visas are granted to HIV-positive people who meet certain requirements, instead of waiting for a special waiver from DHS(more info).

    My philosophy on the whole issue is that it’s not an issue, so I don’t present it as one.And I’ve never had any problems over the years of extensive travel.


  3. where did you hear that people with syphilis are denied entry to the USA?

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