HIV Status No Longer a Bar to Entering the U.S.01 Dec 2009
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have lifted a longtime rule that barred entry to the United States to people who test positive for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS. The original rule was adopted in June, 1987, a time when our scientific knowledge of HIV was far outstripped by the fear and panic, engendered by the sudden appearance of a new and – at that time – mostly fatal disease.
The Immigration and Naturalization Act has long held that people with communicable diseases of public health significance should not be granted visas to enter the United States. This is a basic and sensible public health measure, but one that no longer applies in the case of HIV. In overturning its prior HIV rule, the CDC noted that, “While HIV infection is a serious health condition, it is not a communicable disease that is a significant public health risk for introduction, transmission, and spread to the U.S. population through casual contact.” (See 74 Federal Register at 56547, November 2, 2009). In other words, unlike the H1N1 flu virus, you cannot catch HIV simply by being in close quarters with someone who is infected.
Under the old rules, families could be separated, battered spouses denied entry, asylum seekers turned away, and talented professionals denied the opportunity to contribute to American arts, sciences, business, and academia, all because a person seeking entry was found to be infected with HIV. This not only kept out students, and researchers and tourists, it prevented the United States from providing safe haven for vulnerable groups that already suffered social stigma and ostracism in their homelands. As the CDC said, there have been “advances in public health practices and interventions for prevention and control” that make HIV infection “not a threat to the general population through casual contact,” and therefore it “is no longer considered a significant public health risk… .” That is not to say that AIDS is no longer a problem. If anything, we should redouble our efforts to prevent the spread and to find a cure. Fortunately, however, our immigration policy will no longer be driven by fear of people with HIV. The science has come a long way since 1987. Let’s hope we have, too.