President Obama Signs Ryan White Act, HIV Travel and Immigration Ban Will Be Lifted Early Next Year

On October 30, President Barack Obama signed legislation reauthorizing the Ryan White Act, which provides funding for treatment and other services for people with HIV/AIDS. During the signing ceremony, he announced that the federal government would lift the ban on HIV positive visitors or immigrants to the United States, effective in early January 2010.

The 2008 reauthorization of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) overturned a statutory ban on HIV positive visitors and immigrants, and returned to the Department of Health and Human Services the authority to determine whether to keep HIV on a list of "communicable diseases of public health significance" used to exclude foreign nationals -- a legacy of the AIDS panic of the late 1980s.

As previously reported, in July the federal government issued proposed regulations removing the current restrictions, which were subject to a public comment period.

The regulation change announced last week was scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on November 2, and will go into effect after the standard 60-day waiting period, or at the beginning of January 2010.

In the interim, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has instructed officers to put a hold on green card applications that might be denied due to the applicant's HIV status.

"Twenty-two years ago, in a decision rooted in fear rather than fact, the United States instituted a travel ban on entry into the country for people living with HIV/AIDS," Obama said in his remarks preceding the signing of the legislation. "Now, we talk about reducing the stigma of this disease -- yet we've treated a visitor living with it as a threat. We lead the world when it comes to helping stem the AIDS pandemic -- yet we are one of only a dozen countries that still bar people from HIV from entering our own country."

"If we want to be the global leader in combating HIV/AIDS, we need to act like it," he continued. "And that's why, on Monday my administration will publish a final rule that eliminates the travel ban effective just after the New Year. Congress and President Bush began this process last year, and they ought to be commended for it. We are finishing the job. It's a step that will encourage people to get tested and get treatment, it's a step that will keep families together, and it's a step that will save lives."

The International AIDS Society has indicated that it will consider holding its 2012 International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC, if the ban is lifted. The conference has not been held in the U.S. since the HIV positive visitor restrictions were enacted in the early 1990s.

"The lifting of the HIV travel ban will remove a federally sanctioned stigma and sends a strong, clear message that the United States is working to end discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS," said Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "Since HIV was the only disease singled out for exclusion by an act of Congress, the ban undermined U.S. efforts to fight the HIV pandemic. We applaud the approaching end of a discriminatory practice that stigmatized those living with HIV and AIDS. It is long past time to create a fair, humane and sensible HIV immigration policy."

11/3/09

Sources

G Franke-Ruta. White House announces end to HIV travel ban. Washington Post blog. October 30, 2009.

K Eleveld and M Garcia. White House announces end to HIV travel ban. Advocate.com. October 30, 2009.

B Obama. Remarks by the President at Signing of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act of 2009. White House Press Office. Press release. October 30, 2009.

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Task Force: Lifting HIV travel ban will finally end 'federally sanctioned stigma.' Press release. October 30, 2009.