IAS 2023 call to finally end Australia’s HIV visa restrictions

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Advocates at last month’s 12th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Science in Brisbane used the event to call for the Albanese Government to finally remove the last restrictions around people who are living with HIV from migrating to Australia.

Australia is one of only around 40 countries in 2023 that still maintains visa restrictions for people living with HIV, despite being recognised as a world leader in combating the epidemic.

The Australian Government under Prime Minister Scott Morrison was criticised by UNAIDS in 2021 for retaining migration laws that “discriminate against people based on their HIV status” despite having otherwise “progressive HIV policies.”

According to the Department of Home Affairs (DOHA), people who are applying for a permanent visa or temporary work or study visa to live in Australia must still undergo a HIV test.

“If you have HIV or hepatitis and you apply for a temporary visa, we might consider your condition to be a threat to public health if you intend to work as (or study to become) a doctor, nurse, dentist or paramedic in Australia,” the DOHA website states.

“Otherwise, you will only be assessed by a [Medical Officer of the Commonwealth] to determine whether your condition would result in significant healthcare or community service costs, or prejudice the access of Australian citizens and permanent residents to services in short supply.”

Stuck in the past

Advocates say the rules are based on an outdated understanding of the HIV epidemic and haven’t kept up with modern advances in treating the virus. They are hoping that the change in government will finally see the rules overturned.

“This is an anachronism. It’s a throwback to two decades past when we didn’t have good treatment for HIV,” Health Equity Matters CEO Darryl O’Donnell said in a statement.

“We now have medicines that are very affordable and very cheap. There really isn’t an economic impost for someone coming to Australia because of HIV.

“But people are still locked into a process of seeking residency that can drag on for years and years. The Australian Government should wipe away all of the barriers that stop people living with HIV from moving freely to and from Australia.”

O’Donnell said the rules maintained unnecessary stigma against people who are living with HIV, which could deter people from getting tested early.

“If there’s fear that a HIV positive test result will become a flag for an application for residency, people will hold back [from getting tested],” O’Donnell said.

The cost of antiviral medicines to keep a person who is living with HIV from becoming infectious is about $11,000 a year, which is double the Australian Government’s migration healthcare service cost threshold.

That means all migrants who are living with HIV are still forced through this administrative process in 2023.

Outdated rules

In a statement to the media, Australian Immigration Minister Andrew Giles has conceded that the government’s HIV-related visa rules were problematic and outdated.

“Australia’s approach to migration health requirements does not meet community expectations,” Giles said.

Giles says he has “engaged on the issue” with Health Minister Mark Butler, as well as HIV advocates, but is yet to announce plans to reform the policy.

The 12th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Science closed with a virtual panel discussion on leadership, communication and science featuring Anthony Fauci, former Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the US National Institutes of Health.

“We must continue to push back against disinformation and stigmatisation because disinformation really hampered the response to COVID, and in certain circumstances, has hindered our response to HIV,” Fauci said in pre-recorded remarks.

“We have to push back on disinformation and stigmatisation because they both are clearly the enemies of public health.”

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Andrew M Potts

Andrew has been covering LGBTQIA+ issues for a range of publications in Australia over two decades and was the Asia-Pacific correspondent for global LGBTQIA+ news website Gay Star News.

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