HIV-related travel restrictions



HIV-related travel restrictions are defined as mandatory HIV testing and/or the prevention of people living with HIV from legally entering, transiting through or studying, working or residing in a country solely based on their HIV status. In 2019, 48 countries, territories and areas impose some form of HIV-related restrictions.

HIV-related travel restrictions usually involve a mandatory declaration of HIV status and/or testing, which is often conducted without appropriate counselling, confidentiality or referral to HIV prevention, treatment, care or support services.

A denial of, or waiver for, entry based on HIV status is usually noted in immigration and/or visa records. In addition, non-nationals who are found to be living with HIV during testing undertaken for the renewal of their study, work or residence permits may be confined in immigration detention centres—where they often do not receive HIV-related care—before being deported.

HIV-related travel restrictions undermine human rights and freedoms of people enshrined in international treaties and national constitutions, such as freedom of movement and choice of residence, access to and enjoyment of life opportunities and the ability to be united with families and to participate in social and public life.

HIV-related travel restrictions are not necessary and undermine public health

HIV is a communicable disease that raises public health concerns. However, it is a preventable and manageable chronic health condition that should be treated no differently from other conditions.

Although international health regulations require United Nations Member States to put in place an appropriate and efficient legal framework to prevent and respond to threats of international spread of diseases, “in ways that are commensurate with and restricted to public health risks,” restrictions on travel based on HIV status are not justifiable. HIV cannot be transmitted by casual contact and the mere presence of people living with HIV in a country does not constitute a threat to public health.

Evidence shows that people are more likely to seek HIV testing services when they are in a climate of trust and comfort. Mandatory HIV testing and fear of discriminatory treatment drive people away from HIV services. Bans on entry, stay and residence based on HIV status create a false sense of safety—they don’t protect public health and undermine the AIDS response.

Mandatory HIV testing and travel restrictions based on HIV status reinforce stigmatizing stereotypes against people living with HIV, leading to HIV being viewed as a foreign import that concerns only foreigners (1). In addition, fear of discrimination and deportation may prevent people living with HIV and people at higher risk of HIV from seeking and accessing the HIV prevention, treatment and care services they need, even when they are available.

The World Health Organization and UNAIDS recommend that HIV testing should always be conducted in accordance with the five Cs: informed consent, confidentiality, counselling, communication of correct results and connection with HIV prevention, treatment and care and support services (2).

International Labour Organization Recommendation No. 200 on HIV and the world of work recommends that, “HIV testing or other forms of screening for HIV should not be required of workers, including migrant workers, job seekers and job applicants” and that, “Real or perceived HIV status should not be a ground of discrimination preventing the recruitment or continued employment, or the pursuit of equal opportunities …”

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