'US curbs travel for HIV-infected'

On World Aids Day in November, the White House said new rules would soon make it easier for people with HIV-Aids to travel to the US.

On World Aids Day in November, the White House said new rules would soon make it easier for people with HIV-Aids to travel to the US.

But Democratic legislators and gay-rights groups are complaining that the regulations proposed by the Homeland Security Department could erect more barriers.

Gay rights advocates have long opposed a 1993 federal law that strictly restricts travel and immigration to the US by HIV-positive people, arguing it is outdated and discriminatory.

Foreigners with the virus can obtain visas only after receiving waivers from the department in a cumbersome process that requires approval from its headquarters in Washington.

Activists say this can lead people to lie on visa applications about whether they have HIV, then travel to the US without needed medication to avoid being found out.

The White House says it wants to make the process easier for HIV-positive people seeking 30-day stays for business or pleasure.

The administration announced the publication of regulations meant to speed up the process.

"The administration is working to end discrimination against people living with HIV-Aids. A 'categorical waiver' will enable HIV-positive people to enter the US for short visits through a streamlined process," said a White House factsheet.

The rule proposed last month would allow short-term visas to be granted to HIV-positive people by US consulates in their home countries, cutting out the involvement of the department's headquarters and thus potentially speeding up the process greatly.

But applicants would have to agree to certain conditions, including ceding the ability to apply for longer stays or permanent residency.

The rule refers to people with the HIV-infection, which would include people who are HIV-positive but have not developed Aids.

In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, more than two dozen Democratic members of the House of Representatives objected that the changes do nothing to lessen the burden on HIV-positive people.

They say it instead shifts the decision-making authority to "local consular officers who may lack the appropriate medical expertise".

"Applicants would still have to somehow persuade an official that they present a minimal danger, will not transmit the virus and will not cost the government money," said the letter released this week by Democratic representative Barbara Lee.

Homeland security spokesman Veronica Valdes contended the new rule provides a streamlined process for HIV-positive people to visit the US. She had no immediate response to the criticism in Lee's letter, saying the department would review it and respond.

Gay rights activists say the US is one of just a handful of countries that restricts travel for HIV-positive people.

They say that because of the prohibition, the biennial International Aids Conference has not been held in the US for well over a decade. - Sapa-AP