The Indian government has announced that it will merge the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) and Person of Indian Origin (PIO) cards to provide more effective and efficient services to the Indian Diaspora and remove existing disparities.
Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi told the delegates attending the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Kochi (Kerala) on January 8 that while the need to merge the two cards was expressed some time ago, it would become a reality soon.
He told this reporter that there was also a need to consider all People of Indian Origin (PIO) on a par with former citizens of India who now hold OCI Cards and that a single card would serve the community better.
The PIO scheme became effective on September 15, 2002 for persons who never held an Indian passport but their parents, grandparents or great grandparents (usually up to the fourth generation drawn down) were born in India but never moved to or held passports of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and countries that may be specified by the Indian government from time to time.
This card is valid for 15 years and is issued subject to a number of conditions set by the Indian government.
The OCI card was launched in 2006 to enable former Indian passport holders to acquire larger benefits of being ‘an Overseas Indian Citizen.’
OCI is considered an ‘upgraded version’ of PIO, since they hold permanent visas to enter and stay in India indefinitely. Those holding PIO cards can also have a permanent visa to visit and stay indefinitely, but must comply with requirements of the law and register themselves at the nearest Foreigners Regional Registration Officer or Foreigners Registration Officer if their stay exceeds 180 days continuously.
Holders of both cards enjoy a number of privileges including ownership of properties and businesses (subject to existing rules in force) but cannot participate in politics, vote in any election and apply for government jobs.
No Dual Citizenship
Following a number of queries from readers, we wish to clarify that those becoming citizens of another country automatically forfeit Indian citizenship and Indian passport.
A notification issued by the Indian High Commission in Wellington said, “The Indian Citizenship Act (1955) does not allow dual citizenship. Holding an Indian passport, acquiring it or travelling after acquisition of foreign citizenship constitutes and offence under the Indian Passport Act (1967) and attracts penalties. The Indian Government has prescribed imposition of penalty on a graded scale, depending on the number of trips made on Indian passport after acquiring foreign nationality, for violation of Passport Rules and retention of Indian passport for more than three years after acquiring foreign nationality.”
Gaining Indian Passport
Under the current rules, those holding OCI cards can seek to become Indian citizens again (and therefore obtain Indian passport) five years after the issue of the Card, of which one year should be spent continuously in India.
PIO cardholders can apply for Indian citizenshipo seven years after their issue, one year of which must be spent continuously in India. They should also renounce the passport/s issued by other countries.
It is not known how the merger would affect those with PIO cards.
The NRI difference
There is also considerable confusion relating to the term Non-Resident Indians (NRIs).
NRIs are persons who are not ordinarily resident in India but hold Indian passports. They have all the rights accorded to Indian citizens, including voting in elections, if they are physically present in their constituency on the polling day.
Subject to rules in force, NRIs are required to pay income tax to the Indian government on incomes earned outside India.
Readers who need further clarifications may write to email@example.com; following which, we shall try to obtain requisite information from the concerned authorities.