The Indian Home Ministry has issued strict visa guidelines making it more difficult for intended parents to obtain visas for entry to India for surrogacy arrangements.
Intended parents can no longer travel to India on a tourist visa for the purposes of entering into a surrogacy arrangement. Instead, they must apply for a specific 'medical' visa which has considerably stricter criteria.
Applications are restricted to heterosexual couples, married for at least two years. Applicants must also cite evidence that surrogacy is legal in their home country. Furthermore, they must demonstrate that their home country would recognise the child born of the surrogacy arrangement as their biological child.
This was deemed necessary after a number of cases where children born of surrogacy arrangements have been left 'stateless'. Some countries - including Norway, Germany and Italy - have prohibited surrogacy and therefore do not recognise a child born of cross-border surrogacy arrangements as a citizen and the legal child of the commissioning couple.
Foreign commissioning couples will also only be able to enter into surrogacy agreements at authorised fertility clinics registered with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
Foreign embassies were informed of the new guidelines in a circular sent by the Ministry in July 2012. The Foreign Regional Registration Office was notified in December 2012 and fertility clinics across India were subsequently informed, explains the Times of India.
Significantly, the 'marriage' criterion excludes foreign single people and gay couples from entering into surrogacy agreements. Although India does not recognise gay marriage, before the new guidelines both single people and gay couples could enter into surrogacy agreements in India without bar.
Australian surrogacy lawyer Stephen Page has said that the impact of these guidelines – certainly for Australian intended parents – is not to be underestimated: 'I believe instead of about 200 children a year being born to Australian intended parents a year, it will be down to five or ten'.
The guidelines have been published amid an ongoing review of law and practice on assisted reproduction. In recent months the ICMR has been encouraging fertility clinics to register, and the Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) Regulation Bill 2010 is current awaiting debate in the Indian Parliament.
Amar Jesani of the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics has criticised the Indian Government's approach: 'Surrogacy is a complex issue and the focus of the Government should be on protecting the poor Indian woman who rents out her womb. While such provisions might be important, we must ask why they dither over a bill to regulate the ART sector?'