"I never thought I would be refused a visa because of HIV"

Three years ago Gurmit Singh's future looked bright: he had received a scholarship to study in Australia and fulfil his life's dream of becoming a researcher. But his hopes were dashed when he was refused a visa. Singh, now 36, told his story during the recent International AIDS Conference held in Mexico.

"My country, Singapore, has had the finger pointed at them a lot due to the travel restrictions [it imposes] on HIV-positive people. But it was Australia that denied me entry [into the country] in 2005.

"At that time I was working in the field of education in Singapore and I had the opportunity to go and do a PhD in Australia. I had obtained a three-year scholarship and was starting to apply for my visa. I had to do medical tests, including an HIV test.

"I knew that I was HIV positive and I explained that to the doctor. I didn't imagine that I would be refused a visa and the right to study because of HIV; my studies had been paid for. The results of my HIV test were sent straight [to the immigration service] in Australia.

"Everyone at work was very excited for me. I hadn't renewed my work contract because I was supposed to leave six months later.

"But one day I received an email informing me that my visa request had been refused. It didn't mention AIDS specifically, but it said something like 'the medical officer has informed us that you do not fulfil the health criteria required for a visa'. I didn't have any other health problems [apart from HIV].

"[This news] was devastating for me; I had always wanted to be a researcher. I had to find another job. I had to explain [to people around me] why I wasn't going to Australia; I also had to tell my family [that I was HIV positive].

According to an Australian immigration fact sheet on health requirements, permanent visa applicants 15 years of age or older must take an HIV test.

"Temporary visa applicants who intend to work as a doctor, nurse or dentist in Australia are required to take an HIV/AIDS test. Applicants for temporary visas may be required to undergo a medical examination, chest x-ray and/or other tests depending on how long they propose to stay in Australia, their intended activities in Australia, the tuberculosis (TB) rating of current and previous countries of residence and other factors.

If the applicant is found to be HIV positive, a decision on whether the applicant meets the health requirement will be made on the same grounds as any other pre-existing medical condition. The main factor to be taken into account is the cost of the condition to the Australian community of health care and community services."

"I lost my career prospects and my income. I had lost all hope at that point. I had all the necessary qualifications but I was HIV positive. The pressure on me was so intolerable that I couldn't live with my family any more. I had to leave the country.

"Fortunately I managed to find a job with IAS [International AIDS Society, which organised the International AIDS Conference]. Now I can live openly with HIV in Switzerland, and I work in development. Here I am today; I am alive, and I am not dead.

"[At IAS] I realised that I am not the only one in my position - we get lots of stories like mine. I decided it was my duty to talk. We can mobilise the community to bring about change; it is something we can all do."

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