Anni Wan, a 16-year-old from Chongqing diagnosed with cancer in her chin, was given three months to live. That’s when an American friend helped her seek out doctors at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and get a B1/B2 (visitor) visa for medical treatment from the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu.
Anni’s story about battling U.S. visa issues illustrates several important points about applying for a U.S. visa for medical treatment.
For the U.S. visa application, the Houston doctors reviewed her medical records and estimated they could treat her within 3 months at a cost of $47,000. But, when Anni arrived in Houston, doctors also found previously undiagnosed cancer in her spine that would require a year of treatment. When the hospital bills jumped to $450,000 (even after two doctors waived their fees for treatment), the family’s money ran out. The family and the American friend began to solicit donations, raising some $300,000.
But Anni also had to battle U.S. visa issues. Anni’s application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to extend her visitor status was denied. The news story doesn’t explain the reasons for denial, but the most likely reasons are that the evidence submitted to USCIS of the medical diagnosis wasn’t clear, the updated treatment plan and cost of that plan wasn’t clear, and/or the evidence of the family’s ability to pay (taking into account donations and fee waivers by the hospital) wasn’t sufficient.
After sleepless nights for the family, a U.S. Congressman was able to intervene to get the extension approved, presumably by compiling persuasive evidence of one or all of these points.
The doctors now believe that Anni will survive, completing her treatment in May.
Anni’s story shows that consular officers and USCIS officers are typically sympathetic but also thorough and cautious about approving visa applications for persons who may require emergency medical treatment in the U.S. but may be unable to pay. An applicant needs to do several things:
1. Medical Diagnosis: You will need a detailed and clearly written diagnosis from a physician explaining the nature of your medical condition and why you prefer to or need to go to the U.S. for treatment.
2. Treatment Plan: You will need a letter from the U.S. physician or hospital explaining the planned course of treatment, its length, and the cost of treatment.
3. Ability to Pay: You will need evidence such as bank statements, tax returns, or insurance policies showing that you are able to pay for the treatment, transportation, and U.S. living expenses. If somebody else will pay for the treatment, they should also provide a statement explaining they will be financially responsible. It may be wise for that person to also complete a USCIS Form I-134, Affidavit of Support.
In Anni’s case, the diagnosis and treatment plan provided to the U.S. Consulate in Chongqing were good enough to get the visa, although the cancer in her spine was undiagnosed. When the new diagnosis required additional medical treatment at a higher cost, the application to USCIS required an updated diagnosis, treatment plan and cost estimate, and evidence of ability to pay.
In my opinion, U.S. policy allowing for issuance of B1/B2 (visitor) visas for medical treatment is a good thing both for patients and for U.S. hospitals. But to make this policy viable visa applicants need to understand and comply with the rules requiring a clear diagnosis, treatment plan, and proof of ability to pay.
You can help make U.S. visa policy work for patients like Anni whose families are unable to pay for treatment. Make make a donation to a fund set up by Anni’s family or to the MD Anderson Cancer Center:
American First National Bank
9999 Bellaire Blvd
Houston, Texas 77036
Account Name: Xu LingAccount Number: 939327
MD Anderson Cancer Center
P.O. Box 4461
Houston, Texas 77210-4461
Attention: Anni Wan, Medical Record Number: 883851