By CHRIS JOHNSON
The Obama administration has taken a new step toward lifting the ban on HIV-positive foreign nationals entering the United States in a possible indication that a full repeal is coming soon.
A memo issued Tuesday by U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services instructs officers to place on hold any green card applications for foreign nationals that would otherwise be denied simply because of HIV status.
These holds will continue until the release of the final rule change, which is expected later this year from the Department of Health & Human Services.
Steve Ralls, an Immigration Equality spokesperson, said the memo signals that the administration is "very close" to repealing the ban and is instructing agencies to be ready.
"USCIS is clearly expecting guidance from HHS very soon, and has decided to hold applications by HIV-positive applicants rather than deny them, as the new rule will no longer prohibit their entry into the country," he said.
Ralls said it was earlier thought the administration would end the travel ban sometime around the end of this year, but the release of the memo suggests repeal may come "ahead of that schedule."
"I can't imagine that USCIS wants a three-month backlog of green card applications, so the message that I get is that essentially Health & Human Services has informed USCIS that the rule change has been approved and will be implemented shortly," Ralls said.
Last year, former President George W. Bush signed into law, as part of the reauthorization of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a provision removing the HIV travel ban from federal statutes.
The law returned authority to HHS on whether HIV should stay on a list of communicable diseases barring foreign nationals from entering the United States.