Immigration Policies and HIV/AIDS: The Connection

Even in a “border town” like Albuquerque, New Mexico, many people are not aware of the nuances of immigration policy and how it affects people with an HIV+ diagnosis trying to enter this country or how nations abroad treat Americans with an HIV+ diagnosis. While American immigration policy has largely removed HIV status as a factor for permission to live or work within our borders, it can still affect residency.

American Immigration Policy Pre-2010

Up to 2010, HIV status was a criterion on which immigration status (temporary and permanent visas) could be denied. Individuals seeking admittance to the US had to declare their HIV status, which could be verified by a blood test as part of the standard medical exam.

Immigration Policy Changes

In 2010, the ban against foreign nationals with HIV ended. The lifting of the ban may largely be credited to a shift in the understanding and attitude toward HIV. Advanced in treatment since the virus’ first human incidence (more than 30 years ago) significantly repress virulence and effectively prevent transmission. As a result, HIV is no longer viewed as a public health threat.

However, while the ban removed HIV status as a question/criterion on the application for residence in the United States, HIV status can still affect application for permanent residence and/or citizenship. Although a foreign national cannot lawfully be asked to declare HIV status, the presence of a positive diagnosis may be found during a routine medical exam, which continues to be part of the emigration process. Because HIV+ individuals will require on-going treatment, they may be denied permanent residency because of the estimated cost borne by the system for health care and other support services.

Yet, HIV+ diagnosis can also actually be the reason for being granted permission to stay. An HIV+ foreign national may claim the diagnosis as the basis for seeking asylum in the US.

Immigration Policies Abroad

The U.S.’s immigration policies regarding HIV, both before 2010 and after, are not outliers among immigration policies of other nations. The lifting of the HIV ban put the US in the company of a number of other nations, many of them in Europe, who do not use HIV status as a criterion for short- or long-term entry into the country. Still, there are a number of nations who do still use HIV status as a determinant for immigration. Countries that deny entry for any period of time based on HIV diagnosis include:

  • Brunei
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Jordan
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Qatar
  • Russia
  • Singapore
  • Solomon Islands
  • Sudan
  • United Arab Emirates (UAE)
  • Yemen

Immigration policies that ban entry to HIV+ individuals may be based on moral/theocratic grounds, or they may reflect the lack of infrastructure and/or funding to support those who need on-going medical care and/or other social services.