The United States has ended its 22-year-old policy that banned HIV-positive people from entering the country.

At the White House signing ceremony for the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act of 2009 on Friday, President Obama announced the change.

“Twenty-two years ago, in a decision rooted in fear rather than fact, the United States instituted a travel ban on entry into the country for people living with HIV/AIDS,” Obama said. “If we want to be the global leader in combating HIV/AIDS, we need to act like it.”

“And that's why, on Monday my administration will publish a final rule that eliminates the travel ban effective just after the New Year. Congress and President Bush began this process last year, and they ought to be commended for it. We are finishing the job. It's a step that will encourage people to get tested and get treatment, it's a step that will keep families together, and it's a step that will save lives.”

Congress approved and President George Bush signed the United States Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculous and Malaria Reauthorization Act of 2008 on July 30, 2008. But Bush officials failed to implement the regulatory changes to end the restrictions.

Immigration Equality, a group that advocates for gay immigrant rights, 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.

“Today a discriminatory travel and immigration ban has gone the way of the dinosaur and we're glad it's finally extinct. It sure took too long to get here,” Senator Kerry said in a statement. “We've now removed one more hurdle in our fight against AIDS, and it's long overdue for people living with HIV who battle against the stigma and bigotry day in and day out.”

The 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.

Immigration Equality also points out that the ban disproportionately affected 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.

“At long last, our nation's unjust policy of excluding HIV-positive visitors and immigrants has ended,” Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement.

“We applaud the leadership of our allies in Congress, especially Senator Kerry, and of President Obama and Secretary [of Health and Human Services] Sebelius in bringing this discriminatory chapter of our history to a close.”