People living with HIV who are planning a trip abroad may face a difficult dilemma- whether to declare their status and face being denied entry or lie and risk deportation if they are caught.

“Lots of people I know lie on their visa application” says Gordon Bennett, an expat New Yorker, who owns a travel agency in London. “You can understand why they do it- some haven’t seen their family for years, some just want to explore parts of the world that would otherwise be prohibited to them. I wish I could, but I can’t bring myself to.”

Gordon is not a suspected terrorist, neither is he an international drugs-smuggler, he was diagnosed with HIV in 1998, which leaves a number of countries closed to him forever. He is actually supposed to be in Shanghai today, having planned a business trip months ago only to discover he is banned from entering because of his status.

“I only learned of these travel impingements, after so many years living with the virus, when I had to cancel this trip to Shanghai and Seoul” Gordon says. “I’m indignant about it; it’s like the second blow to my HIV-finding out I am not free to travel wherever I want.” Unlike his friends however, Gordon does not see lying as an option: “forget that it is fraud, god forbid if something did happen while I was out there and no one knew I had HIV.”

As it stands 12 countries, including America, Australia, Russia, Saudi Arabia and South Korea would have put Gordon on the first flight home had he lied about his HIV status and a further 74 countries would put him through a rigorous series of tests. A testing procedure he is all too familiar with:“You are made to fill out a visa waiver form- it asks a loaded question- “do you have a communicable disease of public health significance?”, a nefarious way governments can come out and ask you the dirty little question which is do you have HIV? These people who travel without disclosing it, those who tick ‘no’ are actually committing immigration fraud and you can imagine how this puts most HIV positive people off travelling to America altogether. Essentially, if they tell the truth they are treated like a leper and a criminal if they lie, all because of a virus.”

By virtue of his place of birth 44-year-old Gordon is allowed to travel to America, but most people with HIV are denied entry based on their status. America has banned HIV positive people from entering the country – whether for travel, business, study or immigration – for the past 20 years, and since 1993 that ban has been permanently enshrined in law.

The US Department of Health and Human Services is in the process of removing restrictions on people with HIV but there is no guarantee the legislation will be passed. In the meantime, entering America if you are HIV positive is a breach of their immigration law.

This does not stop some people from going to extreme lengths to get there, including sending their retroviral medicine ahead of them in case they get searched at the airport, flushing it down the toilet at passport control and passing the pills off as vitamins. Craig, 40, did just that three years ago:  “My boss didn’t know about my diagnosis, so when he asked if I could go to New York for work I couldn’t pass it up. I lied on my visa and I packed just enough retrovirals to last me the week in a cod liver oil container, no one asked any questions but I was so anxious when I boarded the plane that I had a panic attack.”

Gordon made his choice and has found the price of truth is his right to travel freely.

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