Green Card: HIV Admission

"My sister-in-law was diagnosed with HIV last year. She is doing well and feels fine. She wants to travel to the U.S. for a summer holiday with some friends, but is worried about gaining admission to the country because of the HIV. Is it true that those who have HIV are not allowed into the country, as she says? I am an American citizen and would be willing to do what I could to help. It doesn’t seem right that those with HIV can’t come here.” It is true that, for more than 20 years, those diagnosed with HIV or AIDS can be denied admission to the U.S. This applies to those who seek to come here as short term visitors or legal immigrants. As immigration law is written, the U.S. government can deny entry for several reasons, and health is one of them. Having HIV or AIDS falls under the list of “communicable diseases of public health significance” that the government uses to determine a person’s eligibility to enter the U.S. (Other diseases on this list include infectious leprosy, tuberculosis, gonorrhea, chancroid and infectious stage syphilis.) How does the U.S. government know when an applicant for admission has HIV or AIDS? For those wishing to immigrate here, a medical exam must be performed before approval is granted. During the exam applicants are tested for the communicable diseases, and those who are found to be infected are denied entry. For non-immigrants, including those traveling on the visa waiver program, an application must be completed, and one of the questions asks if the person has a communicable disease. Travelers with a communicable disease are not allowed to enter the U.S. using a waiver; they must apply to a U.S. consular post for a non-immigrant visa, and a waiver of inadmissibility that, if granted, would allow travel to the U.S. to commence. Those with a communicable disease can apply for this waiver of inadmissibility, and the government can (and, indeed, does) grant them on a case by case basis. Some non-immigrants, including those seeking stays of 30 days or less, can obtain waivers provided that they can prove they do not have AIDS symptoms; that they will not endanger the public health; and that they have resources to pay for medical treatment in the event it may be needed. Non-immigrants who are not eligible for waivers include those seeking to become students here, and other classifications of workers. Prospective immigrants eligible for an inadmissibility waiver must be seeking admission on the basis of a family connection. Those with employment-based green card applications, or annual diversity visa lottery winners, cannot apply for the waiver. The waiver for family applicants must be filed by the U.S.-connected relative. In order for the waiver to be granted, it has to be shown that the public health will not be endangered by admission, that the possibility of spreading the disease after admission is minimal, and that the U.S. government will not incur costs from the disease without first providing consent for such costs. You may well be asking how, in the absence of a medical test, the U.S. government would know that your sister-in-law has HIV, particularly if she is feeling fine and not symptomatic. The answer is that the government wouldn’t know, but could deny entry on a suspicion. And, as mentioned above, those seeking to enter the U.S. as non-immigrants are asked if they have a communicable disease (in addition to having a physical or mental disorder, or if drug abuse or addiction applies.) Efforts have been ongoing for years to strike HIV from the list of communicable diseases that can bar an applicant from the U.S., seeing that research on the disease has advanced so much since it was added to the list back in the eighties.

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