Why India should issue more medical tourism visas to Pakistani nationals
New Delhi: Amid the persistent tension between India and Pakistan and the fluctuating fortunes of bilateral trade, there is one silver lining.
The highest average earnings per patient through export of health services from India comes from Pakistan at $2,906. Pakistan is followed by Bangladesh ($2,084), CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries ($1,950), Russia ($1,618) and Iraq ($1,530), according to a first of its kind survey on export of health services by Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics, under the commerce ministry. This means a patient from Pakistan visiting a hospital in India spends more than people from any other country, boosting India’s foreign exchange reserves.
However, the number of medical visas issued to Pakistani patients in 2015-16 stood at a measly 1,921 compared to 58,360 to patients from Bangladesh and 29,492 to patients from Afghanistan. Due to the low number of medical visas issued, Pakistan contributed only $6 million to India’s services exports compared to $343 million by Bangladesh in 2015-16.
India has emerged as a top-notch destination for medical value travel because of its world-class healthcare facilities and affordable price. India aims to significantly promote medical tourism and has recently liberalized its e-visa system for most of the countries except Pakistan.
In the health tourism portal maintained by the services export promotion council as a one-stop for overseas patients, there is no specific information on how patients from Pakistan can obtain a medical visa. The same information is available for patients from 16 countries, including Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
The tension between the two South Asian neighbours has risen after a Pakistan military court handed a death sentence to captured Indian national Kulbhushan Yadav who Pakistan alleges is an Indian spy. India has denied the charge and has repeatedly asked for consular access to Yadav that Pakistan has refused time and again. There are reports that India may further restrict visas to Pakistani nationals, though another report claims visas will be issued to Pakistan nationals only on medical ground.
Pakistani nationals can get visitor visa of six months to meet relatives or friends or any other legitimate purpose and the duration of stay in India at a time shall not exceed three months. “However, senior citizens (above 65 years of age) or a Pakistan national married to an Indian and their children below 12 years of age accompanying parents may be granted two years visit visa with multiple entries subject to certain conditions,” minister of state in the ministry of home affairs Kiren Rijiju said in response to a question in Rajya Sabha earlier this month.