Gay groups are praising the imminent end of the U.S. ban on travel and immigration by HIV infected foreign nationals.

Last week at a White House reception for gay and lesbian leaders, President Obama listed the upcoming regulation change among his gay rights accomplishments.

“In addition, my administration is committed to rescinding the discriminatory ban on entry to the United States based on HIV status,” Obama told a cheering East Room crowd. “The Office of Management and Budget just concluded a review of a proposal to repeal this entry ban, which is a first and very big step towards ending this policy.”

While Obama might in fact be committed to lifting the ban, using it to bolster his gay rights resume is a bit of a stretch; Congress approved and then-President George Bush signed the United States Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculous and Malaria Reauthorization Act of 2008 on July 30, 2008.

The Obama administration did, however, approve the regulatory change proposed by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, which is expected to be implemented following a 45-day public comment period.

Lifting the HIV travel ban is an important legislative victory for groups working on LGBT immigration rights issues.

“Ending the HIV travel and immigration ban removes a federally-sanctioned stigma and sends a strong, clear message that the United States is working to end discrimination against people living with HIV,” said Victoria Neilson, legal director for Immigration Equality.

Immigration Equality worked closely last year with Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, California Congresswoman Barbara Lee and former Oregon Senator Gordon Smith, a Republican, to pass the legislation.

“There is no reason for this policy to remain on the books,” Kerry said in a statement. “I sincerely hope we can continue to work in a bipartisan manner with the help of the public health, religious, LGBT and immigration groups to make this proposed rule final as soon as possible.”

The nearly 22-year-old ban has kept “Americans, both gay and straight, separated from loved ones living with HIV abroad,” Steve Ralls, director of communications for Immigration Equality, told On Top Magazine.

“There hasn't been a single major HIV/AIDS or scientific conference in the United States in decades because of the ban, either. It has undermined our commitment to equality and tarnished our reputation as a leader in fostering scientific and medical innovation,” Ralls added.

“This regulation is unnecessary, ineffective and lacks any public health justification,” Joe Solmonese, president of Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights lobby, said in a statement. “We are confident that this sad chapter in our nation's treatment of people with HIV and AIDS will soon be closed.”

Immigration Equality also points out that the ban disproportionately affects gay and lesbian couples because their relationships are not recognized under current immigration law, and HIV ban waivers are generally based on a U.S. familial relationship.