January 4, 2010 -- Updated 1757 GMT (0157 HKT)
Washington (CNN) -- Tourists, business people and other foreign nationals who are HIV-positive will find it easier starting Monday to obtain short-term visas to visit the United States.
Advocates for HIV-positive people said the new policy was long overdue, calling it "a significant step forward for the United States."
"The end of the HIV travel and immigration ban is the beginning of a new life for countless families and thousands who had been separated because of this policy," said Steve Ralls, spokesman for Immigration Equality, a national rights organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and HIV-positive individuals. "This is a new beginning for them."
HIV-infected visitors previously had to obtain a special waiver from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to obtain a visa, a sometimes lengthy process. Under that process, the U.S. State Department had to make individual recommendations on HIV-positive travelers to DHS, which then conducted a case-by-case evaluation.
In fiscal year 2007, the average processing time for DHS to make decisions on such recommendations was 18 days, the federal agency said. The new rule streamlines the process, making visa authorization and issuance available to many otherwise eligible HIV-positive travelers on the same day as their interview with a U.S. consular officer.
The restrictions, President Obama said in October, were "rooted in fear rather than fact."....