New Zealand’s Progressive Policy Toward HIV+ Zimbabwean Immigrants

by Kevin Jon Heller

New Zealand is a remarkably progressive country when it comes to immigration issues. Exhibit A: the government has recently offered permanent residence to Zimbabweans living in New Zealand who fled the Mugabe regime, even those who are HIV+:

Yesterday the Government urged hundreds of Zimbabweans who fled the Mugabe regime to come forward and apply for permanent residency under a special scheme set up for them, even though part of the process is compulsory health screening.

Health Minister Pete Hodgson and Immigration Minister David Cunliffe moved to reassure the refugees their health status would not be taken into account as long as they met other standard criteria.

“We are doing this because it’s the right thing to do to protect the health of New Zealanders and of those Zimbabweans seeking to become New Zealanders,” said Mr Hodgson.

“When people know about their HIV status, we can be much more successful at containing the spread of the virus.”

The special residency scheme, which came into effect last year, applies to Zimbabweans who came here on humanitarian grounds before October 2004.

Of 1300 migrants, 500 had applied and 800 had not. HIV infection in Zimbabwe is around 20 per cent. Of the 500, 42 were found to be HIV positive (8.4 per cent).

Of the 800 people so far avoiding the scheme, up to 160 could be infected using the higher estimate of 20 per cent, said Mr Hodgson.

It was unlikely all would require antiretroviral treatment but if they did, it could cost New Zealand taxpayers $2.9 million a year.

There are 2474 HIV-positive people living in New Zealand.

Health status is normally taken into account when migrants apply to come here.

New Zealand’s professive stance contrasts with that of the United States, which imposes a blanket ban on immigrants who are HIV+, absent a discretionary waiver.

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