AIDS/HIV No Longer A Barrier To U.S. Entry; Obama Changes A 22-Year-Old Rule

Blood testing in a medical facility in Ethiopia.
Image via Wikipedia

Today’s New York Times reports the lifting of a 22-year-old rule, barring those testing positive for HIV and AIDS from visiting or immigrating to the U.S.:

“Under the ban, United States health authorities have been required to list H.I.V. infection as a “communicable disease of public health significance.” Under immigration law, most foreigners with such a disease cannot travel to the United States. The ban covered both visiting tourists and foreigners seeking to live in this country.

Once the ban is lifted, foreigners applying to become residents in the United States will no longer be required to take a test for AIDS.

In practice, the ban particularly affected tourists and gay men. Waivers were available, but the procedure for tourists and other short-term visitors who were H.I.V. positive was so complicated that many concluded it was not worth it.

For foreigners hoping to immigrate, waivers were available for people who were in a heterosexual marriage, but not for gay couples. Gay advocates said the ban had led to painful separations in families with H.I.V.-positive members that came to live in this country, and had discouraged adoptions of children with the virus.

Gay advocates said the ban also discouraged travelers and some foreigners already living in the United States from seeking testing and medical care for H.I.V. infection.

“The connection between immigration and H.I.V. has frightened people away from testing and treatment,” said Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, a group that advocates for gay people in immigration matters. She said lifting the ban would bring “a significant public health improvement.”

“Stigma and exclusion are not a sound basis for immigration policy,” Ms. Tiven said.

I moved to the U.S. as a permanent legal resident in 1988 from Canada, and had to have an AIDS test before I was granted my green card. As a heterosexual, non-drug-using woman who had never had a blood transfusion, someone who had been using condoms consistently — having covered AIDS for several newspapers in the 1980s,  I was well-versed in the dangers — this felt creepy, invasive and a little frightening. My then-partner, a medical resident, took my blood in the privacy of his office (“Nice veins!” was one of his oddest compliments) and we awaited the results from the small, local community hospital where he was training. We weren’t especially worried about the results, but in a small, gossipy rural town and his workplace it felt even more invasive to me.

I was clean. I was in. It felt weird that my blood contained the ultimate decisive factor in my carefully considered, life-changing decision to come to the U.S. to work and live.

I’m glad this ban has been lifted.