IN A major boost to medical tourism, the Centre is set to announce e-visas for patients seeking prolonged treatment in recognised healthcare centres.
Sources said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has agreed to this move, on the intervention of the Prime Minister’s Office, and the announcement is likely to be made after the current session of Parliament. The MHA, however, turned down the tourism ministry’s request for e-visas for meetings, conferences and events, said sources.
Applicants from nearly 150 countries eligible for e-tourist visas will be able to send online applications for medical visas with scanned copies of medical prescriptions from a government-accredited hospital of his/ her country. The applicant’s biometric details will be taken on arrival.
The short term medical visa will be valid for 30 days from the date of arrival, after which the home department of individual states can extend it by up to one year, provided the application is based on a medical certificate backed by documented advice from a specialised and reputed hospital here. Further extension can be granted only by the MHA.
Currently, patients coming to India for medical treatment have to seek online appointments from Indian missions which take “several weeks or even a month”. Besides the long wait, the patient is required to be physically present during the embassy interaction. The patient also has to furnish a prior tie-up certificate from the Indian hospital willing to treat him.
Niti Aayog’s roadmap to ensure annual 10 per cent growth lists medical tourism as one of the seven boosters. Citing a report by industry body CII and consultancy firm Grant Thornton, the policy agency says India’s medical tourism — currently pegged at $3 billion — could be worth over $8 billion by 2020.
Compared to places like the US, Europe, Australia and Japan, the cost of treatment is lower in India, even as the quality of treatment and availability of medical facilities are at par with them.
The visa relaxation follows the tourism ministry’s efforts to bring India at par with competing nations like Thailand, Malaysia, Dubai and Singapore which offer visa on arrival.
“It is well known that the potential of medical tourism to earn foreign exchange and create jobs in India is much bigger than any other form of tourism. However, there is a requirement to make the medical visa regime more customer friendly,” the tourism ministry wrote to the finance ministry last February.
It attached a January 13 recommendation of the National Medical and Wellness Board which said it would be “appropriate if India reforms its medical tourism visa regime and allows international patients to apply for medical visas online like the holiday makers”.