International AIDS Conferences

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NSWP works in partnership with local members to coordinate sex workers participation in the IACs and produces guides to support sex workers submitting abstracts and Global Village activity proposals as well as organising the sex workers networking zone. 



US government travel restrictions for sex workers and drug users mean that many of us will not be able, or will not want to go to the IAC in Washington this year.

After long negotiations with IAS, members of the IAC 2012 Conference Coordinating Committee and donors, NSWP is now able to announce its alternative event which will be hosted by DMSC (and the India network of sex workers) in Kolkata, India. Different Avenues and the US sex workers rights movement is also continuing to mobilise and organise for the IAC in Washington to welcome those who choose to go to Washington if they can.

The Deputy Executive Director of IAS has this week given assurances to NSWP that sex workers from outside the US who submit abstracts for IAC 2012 will be able to choose between attending the IAC in Washington or coming to the NSWP satellite hub in Kolkata rather than risk trying to enter the US - and if their scholarship application is successful that they can use it to come to Kolkata.

There will be a separate proposal and scholarship process for the Kolkata hub programme - see our page here.

TRAVEL WARNING:The US government restricts entry to anyone who has engaged in prostitution in the last 10 years, or anyone who has made financial profit from prostitution. No criminal conviction is required as prostitution in defined as ‘moral turpitude’ and the restriction applies to sex workers from countries where prostitution is legal.

You can apply for a visa waiver and declare you are a sex worker (and/or a drug user) but there is no guarantee that you will be granted a visa waiver. The visa waiver process can take up to 90 days and this means that you will need to have registered for the conference and have confirmation of your flight, accommodation and your ability to support yourself while in the US. If you are refused a visa waiver then this will be documented and may cause difficulties for future international travel as governments share information about international travellers.

If you apply for a visa without declaring your sex work history then you may be

  • refused a visa
  • refused boarding at the airport of departure – even if you have a visa
  • refused entry by the US Immigration officer upon arrival – even if you have a visa.

If you are refused a visa or refused entry to the US then that information is documented and will cause significant difficulties for future international travel as governments share information about international travellers and you have to declare it on future visa applications to many countries.


Members will also be interested in reading this post from our colleague Audacia Ray at the Red Umbrella Project:

Five Reasons Sex Workers in the U.S. Should Care About the International AIDS Conference

1. Because this is the first time in more than 20 years that the U.S. has hosted the event. The IAC will take place in Washington, DC from July 22 to 27. The conference will feature both formal meetings and presentations (with a registration fee) and a Global Village with cultural and activist events (free admission). Interested in pitching an abstract for the conference or a cultural event for the Global Village? Learn more here. The main deadline for abstracts is February 15.

2. Because although Obama lifted travel restrictions against HIV positive people in 2009, there are still travel bans against sex workers and drug users. This means that people who have sold sex or used drugs, even if doing so is legal where they live, are not allowed to enter the United States.

3.Because the sex workers who won’t be allowed into the U.S. are counting on us to make some noise in DC. There will be an international gathering of sex workers happening at a hub conference in India, and we’ll be able to connect with them digitally before and during the conference to share resources and strategies.

4. Because sex workers are flagged as one of the key populations at higher risk for HIV transmission. The other populations in this group are intravenous drug users and men who have sex with men (MSM) – global health groups often problematically include trans women in the category of MSM. Some of our lives intersect with more than one of these categories.

5. Because on top of having our own problems the U.S. exports terrible policies and strings-attached funding that harms sex workers. For example the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which funds international organizations, include an anti-prostitution clause in contracts with grantees. American sex workers must stand up to our government and denounce PEPFAR and similar policies that harm our brothers and sisters around the world. The IAC is an important forum for us to make our voices heard.

For more information on sex worker presence in Washington and to downlaod a registration form see here.