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Japan eases visa rules to attract ‘medical tourists’

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Japan said it was easing visa requirements for patients seeking care at Japanese hospitals in a bid to promote “medical tourism”, particularly among Asians with rising wealth.

Under the new Visa for Medical Stay system, which will start next month, foreign patients can receive renewable, multiple-entry six-month visas, compared with single-entry, 90-day visas available now.

“My feeling is that barriers between nations have to be low in the field of medicine,” the top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, told reporters.

The centre-left Japanese government in its economic growth strategies announced this year included a push to provide “advanced medical treatment so as to meet growing demand for medical treatment in Asia”.

The programme is designed to lure wealthy individuals and their families, particularly from China and other Asian nations, to Japan to expand the medical business sector.

The move follows the example of other Asian nations, such as South Korea and Singapore.

Until now, Japan’s stringent immigration rules discouraged foreigners from choosing Japanese hospitals for healthcare.

The existing 90-day visa was too short for many patients. It did not allow multiple entries and did not grant any special visit status for family members wanting to accompany patients during their stay in hospital.

Japanese embassies will start launching a campaign to promote the new programme next month, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Tokyo, Dec 17, 2010 (AFP)