A recent order from the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs has stipulated that foreign nationals seeking to enter India for the purposes of commissioning Indian surrogacy services must now apply for a medical visa to do so. This is in contrast to the less stringent tourist visa previously sufficient for entry.
The policy was announced last year (see BioNews 689), but there have since been a number of reports of people still entering the country for surrogacy on tourist visas. After 1 November this will no longer be permitted, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs said.
'It has come to the notice of Ministry of Home Affairs that some foreign nationals are visiting India on [a] tourist visa for commissioning surrogacy. This is not the appropriate visa category and such foreigners will be liable for action for violation of visa conditions', a statement read on the website of the Ministry's Bureau of Immigration.
It continues that clinics could face action against them if they accept anyone for surrogacy without ensuring the proper visa conditions are met.
Under a medical visa, those wishing to engage in the surrogacy process must satisfy additional criteria. They must, for example, be able to demonstrate that the treatment will take place at a registered assisted reproductive treatment clinic that is recognised by the Indian Council of Medical Research.
They must have written confirmation from either the embassy of the foreign country in India or the foreign ministry of their country that confirms it recognises surrogacy. Furthermore, the letter must additionally confirm that the home country will legally recognise the child as a biological offspring of the foreign nationals commissioning the surrogacy upon return.
An appropriately notarised agreement must be drawn up between the surrogate and commissioning parties involved. 'Exit' permission to leave the country is also required to confirm that the intending parents have taken proper custody over the child and that the surrogate mother no longer remains responsible.
Only heterosexual couples who have been legally married for at least two years are eligible to receive a medical visa for surrogacy purposes. This requirement may have a great impact on the industry particularly given that in 2012, the Confederation of Indian Industry estimated that almost 30 percent of foreign surrogacy customers were either single or homosexual.
Several leading clinics in India are reportedly setting up 'LGBT friendly' branches in countries such as Thailand and Mexico, where the delivery of these kinds of services continue to remain largely unregulated.
The modified visa rules come amidst a broader legal landscape of change in Indian reproductive health. India's Assisted Reproductive Technologies Bill 2013, which has drawn various criticisms from particular interest groups, is set to more heavily regulate the reproductive services trade in India where commercial surrogacy alone is said to be worth around $1.5 billion.