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Frequently Asked Questions

General frequently asked questions

  • To determine the location for each International AIDS Conference, the International AIDS Society (IAS) conducts an extensive, open-bid process that begins 18 months before a decision is made. For the 23rd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2020), IAS also conducted proactive outreach to more than 20 cities worldwide to encourage them to submit a bid, starting in 2016.
  • The process involves an extensive evaluation of each city’s ability to house the meeting and its delegates, commitment to supporting scientific research and implementation, and inclusion of civil society and communities living with HIV in their local response. Each city is required to include a cross-section of policy makers, scientific researchers and civil society as part of the bid.
  • The leadership demonstrated by the State of California in bidding for AIDS 2020 was unparalleled. We received 33 letters of support from local AIDS organizations, local key population networks, leading activists and political leaders, all willing to support the mission of the conference. These included:
    • Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris
    • Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi
    • Congresswoman Barbara Lee
    • Leaders of the State Legislature’s LGBT Caucus
    • Governor Jerry Brown
  • For AIDS 2020, only cities in the global North chose to submit bids. Even after extensive outreach from IAS staff and site visits to potential hosts in the global South, we did not receive any applications from the South.
  • The US Government plays a vitally important role in addressing the epidemic both globally and domestically. Year after year, we see attempts to dismantle and de-fund these programmes. Despite this, the US still contributes three of every four donor dollars going towards global HIV and AIDS programmes.
  • Experience tells us that locations with significant challenges frequently offer the greatest opportunities for change. AIDS 2000 in Durban is a good example. We went in fully aware that the South African President was in denial that HIV even caused AIDS. That gathering marked a turning point for our movement.
  • In its bid, the State of California and the cities of San Francisco and Oakland have jointly shown their willingness to leverage the conference as a platform to challenge discriminatory policies, in partnership with conference organizers.
  • Returning to the Bay Area – a sanctuary of the HIV response - 30 years since the conference was last hosted there provides a rare opportunity to renew interest and commitments, while also engaging a multitude of new actors, including the tech industry.
  • Holding AIDS 2020 in the Bay Area will allow us to showcase innovations that have helped San Francisco nearly eliminate new infections and examine new strategies being employed in Oakland, a city tackling very different challenges.
  • Beyond the Bay Area, AIDS 2020 will shine a spotlight on communities across the US where the HIV epidemic is far from over. People of colour in the US continue to face disproportionate barriers to accessing prevention and treatment. If current trends persist, one in two black gay men will acquire HIV in his lifetime.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1.2 million people in the US are living with HIV – and nearly one in eight of those are not aware that they are infected.
  • The opioid crisis has fuelled a resurgence of new HIV infections. In 2015, an outbreak was discovered in Indiana, and in 2018, the CDC spoke of another cluster in Massachusetts linked to injecting drug use.
  • This will not be the first time that the conference is held in a country during an election year. In 2012 in Washington, D.C. it was also a presidential election year and the conference served as major platform to look at key political issues in the country at that time.
  • The State of the Union address by the US President in 2019, announced a commitment to the Ending the HIV Epidemic by 2030, demonstrating that HIV will be a key topic during this election cycle and the conference can serve as a platform to advance that discussion.
  • Partners in both San Francisco and Oakland are committed to using the conference to make HIV science and policy front-and-centre election year issues.
  • With the selection of the Bay Area for AIDS 2020, we have the chance to elevate US and global HIV concerns to the national and international stage. That includes shining a spotlight on and working to reform unjust policies that restrict entry into the country and perpetuate a climate of stigma and fear.
  • This is a rare moment to put HIV and those most affected, including people of colour, minorities and the economically disadvantaged, at the centre of the election discussion.
  • Key community and political leaders in San Francisco and Oakland recognize the benefit of the conference in solidifying collaborations between the two cities that will play an important role during the election year.
  • We think that hosting AIDS 2020 in the US at this time will potentially give HIV a much bigger platform than it would otherwise have in important national and political debates that will be happening then.
  • The selection of two host cities is unprecedented. Through the unique partnership of Oakland and San Francisco, we can examine two very different epidemics. This is the first time in history that an International AIDS Conference is being hosted by two cities.
  • San Francisco and Oakland represent a tale of two cities and two diverging experiences that offer insights relevant to the broader HIV community.
  • San Francisco was one of the first cities to embrace the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets and to launch a Getting to Zero effort involving a citywide collaboration of stakeholders from all sectors. It is on track to end new HIV infections by 2020.
  • Across the Bay, Oakland continues to face racial and economic disparities and disproportionate rates of HIV. The city signed onto the Fast-Track Cities Initiative in 2015 and is strengthening policies and programmes tailored to communities most affected by HIV, specifically those that reduce social and economic barriers to HIV prevention and care, in order to reach the 90-90-90 targets.
  • The Bay Area is a hub of top-line, multidisciplinary, global HIV and AIDS research, led by the The University of California, San Francisco, the San Francisco Department of Public Health, the Gladstone Institute of Virology & Immunology, UC Berkeley School of Public Health and Stanford University..
  • Conference organizers are committed to ensuring that programming and activities are fairly balanced in both cities.
  • No decisions have been made yet about how to split programming across the cities. The Conference Coordinating Committee will take on this responsibility, seeking input from partners throughout the decision-making process.
  • Organizers recognize that the Bay area is expensive and that special measures are needed to ensure affordable access and optimal participation.
  • Since 2014, the IAS has doubled the number of scholarships for conference attendees. We are committed to continuing to increase the number of scholarships available to those who otherwise could not afford to attend.
  • San Francisco has agreed to waive the cost of the conference venue. These significant savings will allow us to increase our investment in scholarships and keep to the commitment we have maintained for the past decade to not raise registration fees.
  • Local partners are also helping secure low-cost accommodation by working with universities, hotels and hostels.
  • We are working with our partners to come up with creative solutions to make AIDS 2020 virtually accessible to participants in other countries and to ensure that the voices of those who cannot attend in person are heard at the conference. We are actively pursuing support from the many leading technology companies in the Bay Area to enhance our remote access options.
  • This planning is a priority of the Conference Coordinating Committee and updates will be available as soon as solutions are confirmed.
  • There are specific events that would automatically be grounds for moving the conference. If, for example, the HIV travel ban is reinstated, this would not allow for the GIPA Principle – one of the key markers in the HIV movement – to be realized and, as such, would be a catalyst for moving the conference.
  • All countries have immigration restrictions and, as with each conference, we work with civil society, governments, private sector partners and others to find innovative ways to ensure maximum participation in the conference – especially for key populations and people living with HIV.
  • We pledge to use the conference platform to continue advocating against discriminatory and stigmatizing policies and practices in all countries to effect change on our shared concerns, such as visa and immigration issues. Although many of these challenges are not US specific, they are particularly challenging under the current administration.
  • The conference’s registration refund policy allows for the registration fees minus a handling fee of US$65 to be refunded after the conference if the visa was applied for in time (90 days before travelling to the US) and proof is shown that a visa could not be granted even though all requested documents were submitted. There are no refunds for any additional items ordered. Refund requests must be made in writing and sent with the required documents to the AIDS 2020 Registration team, by email at [email protected], no later than 10 July 2020. No refund requests (including required proofs) will be accepted after this date. Full information on this policy will be available in the registration terms and conditions on the conference website.

Immigration frequently asked questions

  • The International AIDS Society (IAS) and its partners are working closely with US Government officials, including both Administration and Congress officials, and immigration experts to ensure that those who wish to attend AIDS 2020 have the most accurate and up-to-date information about current policy and visa application processes.
  • While there are many compelling reasons for holding AIDS 2020 in the Bay Area, we recognize that an HIV conference in the United States faces practical challenges. We have strong political commitment that we believe will help us in finding pragmatic ways to address these issues.
  • The American Friends of AIDS 2012 in Washington DC offers an important model for preparing for AIDS 2020. Early engagement by the Friends’ policy experts and advocates in 2011-2012 helped address a large number of access issues for delegates travelling internationally.
  • This successful model has been put in place for 2020 through the American Friends of AIDS 2020 – a high-level, multidisciplinary, bipartisan advisory group launched in late 2018, comprised of IAS partners and policy experts working to address specific immigration challenges. This advisory group has begun coordinating with immigration experts to examine existing laws, advise AIDS 2020 attendees on how to navigate them, and create an ongoing direct dialogue connecting IAS leadership and conference co-chairs with key US Government officials. This effort, bolstered by direct follow up by the IAS to US Government officials, is designed to provide the latest information to delegates and address issues and questions as they arise.
  • As the US policy environment continues to evolve, conference organizers, with continued input from the American Friends of AIDS 2020, plan to keep the public apprised of any changes that could affect conference attendance.
  • While there are ongoing changes to US immigration law and policy, these changes up to now do not materially affect nonimmigrant visa applicants (that is, those on tourist or business visas).
  • There have been no policy changes to the visa application process for short-term visitors under the current US Administration, with the notable exception of those seven countries subject to Presidential Proclamation 9645 (Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria and Yemen). Information on Presidential Proclamation 9645 may be found here.
  • In addition, recent policy changes and proposals regarding the definition of “public charge” have raised concerns about their potential impact on AIDS 2020 attendees. To clarify, a “public charge” is an individual who is likely to become “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence”. Most important to note is that public charge determinations are rarely applied to nonimmigrant visa applicants, for example, those on tourist or business visa.
  • There have been no changes to application requirements for individuals who indicate that they have a history of drug use, sex work or criminal charge; these remain grounds for inadmissibility for entering the US. These reasons, called ineligibilities, are listed in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Depending on the circumstances, an individual may be able to apply for a waiver of ineligibility. The consular officer will advise you if you can apply for a waiver of ineligibility. Learn more about waivers of ineligibility.
  • The conference organizers strongly recommend that potential AIDS 2020 delegates apply for visas early at the US embassy or consulate in their country. Specific details on visa applications can be found at www.usembassy.gov.
  • All visa applications should be made no later than 90 days before travelling to the US (that is, no later than the beginning of April 2020 for conference delegates). However, it is strongly recommended that applicants begin the process earlier than this (at least six months in advance). In addition, applicants requiring a waiver of ineligibility into the United States are advised that the waiver process often takes as long as six months.
  • Delegates should refer to the nearest US embassy or consulate website to check on the exact requirements for applying for a visa, ideally at least six months in advance of the conference. Links to all embassies and consulates can be found at www.usembassy.gov.
  • All delegates requiring a visa to enter the US will need to have an interview with a US consular office. Scheduling of interviews must be done directly by the delegate with the embassy or consulate that will process the application. Interviews at most embassies are scheduled through an online system.
  • A list of US embassies, consulates and links to contact details are available here. For an overview of the US embassies/consulates and their interview and processing times, please click here.
  • The main barrier to entry facing visa applicants remains the same: applicants have not convinced a consular officer that they qualify for the visa. Generally, an officer will consider the totality of an applicant’s circumstances, including whether an applicant has sufficient ties to their home country and will use the visa for its lawfully intended purpose.
  • In addition, due to several reasons described under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), a consular officer may decide that an individual is inadmissible to the US and therefore a visa application will be denied. The grounds for inadmissibility set forth in the INA include health concerns, drug trafficking, use of controlled substances, criminal activity, national security reasons, likelihood of becoming a public charge, lack of labour certification (if required), fraud and misrepresentation, prior removals and/or unlawful presence and sex work. If you are inadmissible to the US based on one or more laws listed in the INA, it may be possible to apply for a waiver. For more information, please review the visa ineligibilities and waivers of ineligibility sections of the INA.
  • To view US immigration-related laws in the INA by title, chapter and section, visit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website.
  • It is important to refer to individual embassy and consulate websites, found through www.usembassy.gov. Visa applicants are required to provide the following at the visa interview:
    • Nonimmigrant Visa Application,  Form DS-160 confirmation page.
    • Passport that is valid for at least six months beyond your intended period of stay in the US.
    • Proof of visa fee payment,  if you are required to pay before your interview.
    • When completing the online Form DS-160, you will be required to upload your photo electronically. As explained in the photograph format requirements, please bring one printed photo if the photo upload fails.
  • Please note that it is your responsibility to confirm the requirements and obtain entry to the US.
  • No. As of 2010, a person living with HIV is no longer held ineligible under section 212(a) (1). This remains current policy and law in the US.
  • The visa application form and visa waiver process includes questions about communicable diseases, drug use, the use of controlled substances, arrests and sex work. If a delegate answers any of these questions affirmatively, the individual may be found to be inadmissible to the US and therefore a visa application would be denied. Depending on the circumstances, an individual may qualify for a waiver of ground of ineligibility. For more information, review the visa ineligibilities in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
  • Individuals requiring an official letter of invitation from the AIDS 2020 organizers can request one through the online registration form. To receive an AIDS 2020 letter of invitation, delegates must first register for the conference, pay in full and submit any required supporting documentation (if applicable). Delegates should begin the visa application process early, including a request for a letter of invitation, ideally at least six months before the conference, for those who do not require a waiver.
  • The AIDS 2020 letter of invitation does not financially obligate the conference organizers in any way and nor does it guarantee an entry to the US. All expenses incurred in relation to the conference are the sole responsibility of the delegate.
  • Most visa denials are made on the grounds of the US Immigration and Nationality Act Section 214(b), which states that a nonimmigrant visa cannot be issued to an applicant unless that applicant convinces the consular officer that they will depart the US after a temporary visit rather than stay permanently in the US. The consular officer will look for evidence of a strong financial and/or employment situation and ties to the applicant’s home country.
  • Potential delegates should note that if a visa is denied, there is no appeal process. After being found ineligible for a visa, individuals can reapply and pay the visa application fee again if there is proof that there is significant change in their situation. Learn more about visa denials.
  • If you have been found ineligible to receive a nonimmigrant visa under US immigration law, the consular officer interviewing you will advise you if you may apply for a waiver of ineligibility.
  • If you are eligible to apply for a waiver and wish to apply, you must mail Form I-601, Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility, directly to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). For more information, visit https://www.uscis.gov/i-601.

More information is available and will continue to be updated at www.aids2020.org.

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