Govt denies visa certificate to doctor for US research

Dr Sunil Noothi
Dr Sunil Noothi

Dashing a medical graduate’s hopes of continuing as a post-doctoral scholar in the US, the Union health ministry denied him the permission necessary for his visa, citing an acute shortage of doctors in India. The refusal, the second such for Dr Sunil Noothi, comes despite the Bombay HC pulling up the ministry for its unreasonable decision. The decision is likely to have repercussions on thousands of other research scholars who wish to study in the US, said doctors.

The first refusal came in 2015. In its June 28 denial this year, the Centre said India has 6.9 lakh doctors and needs 4 lakh more by 2022. Allowing Noothi, 39, to go abroad would be against public interest, it said. It would violate its policy to stop issuing a No Obligation to Return to India (NORI) certificate since 2011 to doctors aged under 65, the ministry said.

A NORI certificate is a US government requirement to waive its obligatory two-year home residency to J1 visa holders. In 2014, the Centre set out a policy to ensure doctors return to India after their training or higher studies in the US. It banned issuance of NORI except to doctors over 65.

The HC had clearly said the central policy against issuing a NORI cannot be made applicable to Dr Noothi, who is a research scholar, not a medical practitioner.

Last December, the HC bench at Aurangabad directed the health ministry to reconsider its decision after Dr Noothi challenged the denial of a NORI certificate to him. Noothi’s counsel Rahul Totala said it was a test case, the first such individual challenge in the country filed against the ban on NORI. The Central Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors had also moved the Aurangabad bench in 2015 to challenge the anti-NORI policy introduced in 2014 as “retrograde”. The petition was admitted for hearing by the HC and is pending.

Totala said Dr Noothi had never practised medicine since his MBBS degree in 2002 and intends to only do research. Totala had assailed the ministry’s move as “discriminatory, highhanded and arbitrary”. But S B Deshpande, additional solicitor general, had argued that there was a rise in Indian doctors migrating to the US. ” There is acute shortage of doctors, nurses, paramedical staff and health workers in India,” he said.

Dr Noothi was even willing to surrender his medical licence as he only wished to pursue research. The HC had found his intention commendable and had rapped the Centre for “making it difficult for him to prosecute his research work”—to find a cure for blood cancer—which the HC added “is likely to help the entire mankind”.

The HC bench of Justices R M Borde and S S Patil had said refusing him NORI “does not appear to be fair, reasonable and proper”. It had also directed that the Centre could make the NORI conditional—to ensure that he does not practise medicine abroad.

Dr Sunil Noothi (39) now works as a tutor at a college in Karnataka—the lowest position in a medical college— earning Rs 29,000 a month. “I have lost two years and also the research project I was working, ” Dr Noothi said.