US denies entry to 60 HIV-positive Canadians

Housing Works, a US NGO, in concert with the National AIDS Housing Coalition (NAHC) and the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN), expressed its outrage as 60 Canadians living with HIV have been denied entry into the United States, contrary to stated U.S. policy that foreigners living with HIV would no longer be barred from entering the country. The groups are calling on Secretary of State Clinton to resolve the matter and to do away with Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) regulations that keep the HIV travel ban in place.

In July 2008, President Bush signed a law authorising the Department of Health and Human Services to lift the decades-long ban on foreigners living with HIV entering the United States. The U.S. is one of only 14 countries* in the world that bar entry to persons with HIV, a fact that has drawn broad condemnation from both domestic and international human rights organisations. Yet the ban still has not yet been stricken from DHHS regulations; instead, the Department of Homeland Security put into place a series of measures designed to “streamline” the process for entry into the US for people living with HIV. However, this process is an ill-conceived bureaucratic tangle with such onerous requirements that it is tantamount to a complete ban on people living with HIV coming into the United States.

“This new incident proves that AIDS stigma is alive and well in the United States and actively being promulgated by the United States government,” said Housing Works President and CEO Charles King. “President Obama says that he wants to repair America’s damaged relationships with foreign countries. Let him prove it by taking immediate action to ensure that the DHHS gets this hateful regulation off its books.”

The 60 Canadians had planned to attend the North American Housing and HIV/AIDS Research Summit in Washington, D.C. from June 2 to June 5. The OHTN and NAHC are cosponsors of that event.

In March, DHHS officials indicated that granting a “designated event HIV waiver” for the Housing Summit was underway. Such waivers are designed to allow people living with HIV to attend conferences in the U.S. On Friday, May 22, 11 days before the summit start date, the Ottawa Embassy informed the OHTN that each of the 60 people in its delegation to the Washington, D.C. AIDS Housing Summit would have to comply with the new, severely onerous visa process.

The visa process requires, among other things, a face-to-face interview; a photo; a $131 money order from a specific Canadian bank; an agreement not to extend the visit for any reason; completion of an intrusive and humiliating health form, and a pledge that the applicant has adequate health coverage – something that many US citizens living with HIV/AIDS are still denied.

To add insult to injury, because the OHTN was informed of the new requirements on Friday, May 22, HIV-positive Canadians could not even attempt to meet those requirements until Monday, May 25, barely one week from the June 2 start date of the conference – and to do so, they would have to travel from all over Canada to a specific Ottawa US consulate.

“Not only are these requirements an affront to people living with HIV in Canada, they were impossible to meet. There was no way to physically get people to the Ottawa Embassy on such short notice,” said Dr. Sean B. Rourke, Scientific and Executive Director of OHTN. “Furthermore, requiring people to give their name, a photo and confidential health information to the U.S. government is a violation of their privacy and inconsistent with our commitment to protect personal health information. It shows a lack of sensitivity to the very real stigma and discrimination that people living with HIV/AIDS face every day of their lives.”

*The other countries that ban visits by people living with the HIV besides the United States of America are Brunei, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Malaysia, Oman, Qatar, Singapore, Sudan, South Korea, Tunisia, Turks & Caicos Islands and the United Arab Emirates

Source: Housing Works Press Release. (28 May 2009).

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