OCI, PIO Cards merge, NRIs get voting rights

The Indian Government has decided to merge the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) Scheme with the Persons of Indian Origin (PIO), in a bid to simplify the systems and procedures and treat all overseas Indians with equity.

Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh made the announcement delivering his inaugural address at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2011 at Vigyan Bhavan, Delhi on January 8, 2011, at which Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand was the Chief Guest (see related stories in this issue).

While OCI was issued to former Indian passport holders who had renounced their Indian nationality to become citizens of the country to which they had migrated (since India does not offer ‘Dual Citizenship’), PIO Cards were given to those who could establish that their ancestors were Indian citizens. OCI cardholders are given lifelong visas to visit India with the freedom to stay any length of time, while PIO cardholders had to register themselves at the nearest Police Station or Indian Foreign Office if their stay exceeded 120 days.

“Both Cards facilitated visa-free travel to India as well as to provide the rights of residency and participation in business and educational activities in India. We have recently reviewed the functioning of these schemes, and have decided to merge the OCI and PIO cards into a single facility. We hope to iron out some of the problems that have arisen in the implementation of these schemes,” Dr Singh said but did not give details.

Voting Rights

Dr Singh said his Government had enacted a law to accord Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) the right to vote in general elections in India.

NRIs are Indian citizens living and working outside India.

“Non-Resident citizens now have the right to register themselves in the electoral rolls of their constituencies. We are introducing appropriate procedures to give effect to this new legal provision which will give NRIs their legitimate right to participate in the country’s electoral processes,” Dr Singh said.

OCI and PIO cardholders neither have the right to contest or vote in any general election in India. They are also not allowed to own agricultural land, bid for government contracts (unless through local sponsorship or partnership) and take up government jobs.

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