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People living with HIV claim travel rights

Published:Sunday | April 25, 2010 | 12:00 AM

On January 4, 2010 the ban preventing non citizens of the United States who are living with HIV /AIDS from entering the country was lifted. The significance of this has not been lost on the Jamaican persons living with HIV and AIDS (PLHIV) population and the impact of it is already being noted.

Howard Hamilton, Chairman, National AIDS Committee (NAC), said "stigma and discrimination are main drivers of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in this hemisphere, and the removal of such a law represents, in effect, the removal of another symbol of stigma and discrimination".

Ian McKnight, chairman of Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL) also commended the removal of the ban as "a move that should be hailed".

McKnight also added that many PLHIV have already started to benefit. On one level, PLHIV may now apply for visas without the embarrassment of having to divulge their status at any point and will also be spared significant delays at the airport. On another level, many PLHIV who were being filed for are finding it easier to be united with family and friends in the United States (US).

Prior to the change in the law, there seemed to be a backlog in the immigrant visa application system as a result of scrutiny relating to the applicants' HIV status.

At least 5 people within the JASL system alone, says McKnight, have been successful in attaining the permission necessary from the embassy to migrate to the United States between January and now.

The US embassy has also made an effort to call persons to inform them of this new facility.

Before the new legislation was implemented, PLHIV were defined by law as inadmissible to the United States except when a waiver is obtained in advance. The cost of the waiver was that of a regular visa which can be quite costly if one has to apply every year. In addition, PLHIV had to disclose their HIV status at every interview for the waiver. PLHIV generally waited up to a month before approvals were granted from Washington for clearance.

Status not important

Since January 4, 2010, PLHIV follow the same process as any other person applying for a visa including applying online, paying the fees and going to the embassy for the interview. HIV status is no longer an important issue in the interview.

According to Ainsley Reid, PLHIV activist, he simply went to the embassy for his scheduled interview and asked for his visa waiver to be transferred to a regular visa. He now has a regular visa and his HIV status was not questioned.

However, a lingering question is, will PLHIV who had a waiver be subjected to secondary processing at the US ports of entry; will they still be taken out of the line and placed in a closed off holding area?