Key Facts on Health Coverage of Immigrants

By  //  September 29, 2023

An immigrant permanently shifts their residence to a new country for various reasons, including better living conditions and job opportunities.

A report published by the Migration Policy Institute states that India has sheltered about 4.5 million immigrants as of 2020, most of which are from neighbouring countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh.

Even though they account for just 0.4% of the Indian population, India holds 14th place regarding global migration. Like everyone in the country, access to proper healthcare is essential for immigrants. Despite having numerous barriers to accessing healthcare, most immigrants prefer to use the public healthcare system, mainly due to economic factors.

With costs accounting for about 62.6% of total health expenses, India is one of the largest out-of-pocket spending countries in the world, and immigrants are no exception. To reduce the out-of-pocket spending rates, the government and private companies have been developing numerous health insurance policies, especially for immigrants.

Importance of health insurance: 

India has one of the lowest health insurance penetrations in the world; most households struggle to meet medical expenses due to economic factors. As a result, they deplete their lifelong savings, take huge loans, or even sell their assets to bear the cost, and take an emotional toll during emergencies. With the constantly rising medical expenses and the growing requirement for quality healthcare, individual health insurance is essential in ensuring equal access to quality healthcare for everyone. When a person purchases a health insurance policy, the insurer agrees to cover their medical treatment and hospitalization expenses up to a certain amount. In case of getting treatment at one of the company’s network hospitals, the payment will be paid directly by the insurer and in other cases, the policyholder can reclaim the paid amount. Taking an individual health insurance policy not only eases one of the financial burdens during the crisis but also has numerous other benefits, including claiming tax benefits.  

Access to health coverage among immigrants: 

One critical factor determining the access to individual health insurance for immigrants in India is their legal status. While it is comparatively easier for immigrants with residency status or citizenship status to avail of health coverage, it goes downhill for undocumented ones. Fully documented immigrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, have access to private companies’ public insurance schemes and policies. Foreigners visiting the country on tourist, student or work visas have access only to personal health insurance policies, or they cannot pay out of their pockets. But undocumented immigrants, whose number is estimated to be between one to two million, have access to neither government-sponsored insurance schemes nor private individual health insurance schemes.

Health insurance for ex-pats:  

Traveling to a new place always comes with its challenges. Be it adjusting to different climates, cultures and food. The situation becomes worse, and sometimes unbearable, when one meets with a medical emergency. So, it is always wiser to purchase a health insurance policy to stay prepared for untoward incidents. In cases of travelling to foreign countries for work-related matters, employers will provide health coverage for the employee and accompanying family member. In other situations, buying an individual health insurance policy for the safer side is always better. With over two dozen private insurance companies in India, various policies are offered for immigrants. 

It is always recommended to purchase an insurance policy at least a few months before moving to India. Because insurers will take at least two months to check documents and process the paper, one can get health coverage shortly after reaching the country. Below are some points that need to be checked before availing a policy. 

  1. Since a cashless facility is highly beneficial, checking whether the policy includes cashless hospitalization is always advisable. Otherwise, one needs to shell out from their pocket for medical expenses, submit medical documents and bills to the insurer and wait for at least ten days till the company verifies and approves the claim. 
  2. Getting treatment in a reputed hospital in your vicinity is always wiser, especially when you are struggling with geographical and language barriers. So, experts advise immigrants to ensure the insurer has tie-ups with a wide range of network hospitals. 
  3. It is advisable for immigrants to check the insurer’s claim settlement ratio and incurred claim ratio before purchasing health coverage. These percentages indicate the company’s financial stability and settling claims consistently. The higher the rate, the higher the chances of claiming the medical expenses.  
  4. It is also essential to check the sum insured under the chosen policy. A lower value might only cover some medical expenses incurred during the emergency.


In recent times, health insurance has become essential to avail quality medical treatment in the country without taking on a financial burden. While the government has been sincerely trying to improve health insurance penetration in the country, private insurance companies have been coming up with numerous affordable policies for everyone, including immigrants. Rather than taking emotional and financial tolls during an emergency, it is wiser to avail of health insurance policies.