Overseas Citizenship of India


Akshey Kumar*

15:11 IST

The 4th Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas at Hyderabad will make a history when the first Overseas Indian Citizenship Certificate will be handed over by the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh at its inaugural ceremony on 7th January, 2006. This will also mark the fulfillment of a commitment, which was made by him at the inaugural ceremony of the 3rd Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas 2005 at Mumbai in January last year. The Prime Minister had said, “I am happy to announce that we have decided to extend the facility of dual citizenship to all overseas Indians who migrated from India after 26th January, 1950, as long as their home countries allow dual citizenship under their local laws. I do hope that a day will come when every single overseas Indian who wishes to secure Indian citizenship will actually be able to do so.”
The promulgation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Ordinance, 2005 on 28th June this year was a significant step in this direction. Later, the Parliament passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which replaced this Ordinance. It has now been duly notified and is being implemented. According to this Act, all the people of Indian origin in various countries, except Pakistan and Bangladesh, whose parents/grandparents migrated from India after 26th January 1950 or were eligible to become Indian citizen on 26th January 1950, or belonged to a territory that became part of India after 15th August 1947, will become eligible to be registered as the Overseas Citizens of India (OCI). Now, all legal steps in this direction have been completed. All Indian Missions in the foreign countries have been notified about the Act and its various provisions. The facility is all set to formally roll out in January, 2006.
The persons getting themselves registered as the Overseas Citizens of India will enjoy a number of benefits. They will be entitled to a new type of Visa called U visa which will be a multipurpose, multiple entry life long visa. This means that an OCI cardholder will be entitled to visit India at any time, for any length of time and for any purpose. There will not be any need for them to report to police as the OCI cardholders have been exempted from police reporting for any length of stay in the country. Such persona have also been granted all rights in the economic, financial and education fields in parity with NRIs except, however, the right to acquisition of agricultural or plantation properties.
With the policies of economic liberalization followed during the last 10-15 years, India has emerged in the community of nations as a country, which is capable of playing a significant role in various developmental sectors particularly the knowledge, based industries. India’s expertise in the field of IT has been acknowledged the world over. It is also now emerging as a major destination in sectors like health, education and of course tourism. This has given a new sense of purpose and identity to millions of persons of Indian origin, living in various countries, to trace their roots and participate in this process without compromising their obligation to the country of their adoption. On the other hand, India also needs the benefit of their experience and expertise as Indian emigrants have made remarkable contributions to their host countries and have come to occupy the pride of place there. They have emerged as entrepreneurs, workers, teachers, researchers, inventors, doctors, lawyers, engineers, managers and administrators. Their success can rightly be attributed to India’s traditional ethos, its cultural values and heritage, its educational aptitude and qualifications and its capacity to harmonize and adapt. By playing a leading role in the global technological revolution, they have transformed India’s image abroad.
To fulfill these aspirations, the Overseas Indians have been demanding for the dual citizenship for a long time. The Government too has been very sympathetic to this demand. The scheme of PIO cards with a validity of 15 years was initiated in 2002. Later, in 2003 a legislation for providing the facility of dual citizenship to People of Indian Origin in 16 specified countries, viz. Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Republic of Cyprus, Sweden, Switzerland, U.K. and USA; was also passed by the Parliament. But the latest Ordinance as a follow up of the PM’s announcement is significant as it has not only widened the scope and eligibility criteria for registration as Overseas citizen of India for People of Indian origin of all countries but has also come out with a much simplified procedure and a format that has removed various existing hassles and allows the applicants feel at home, the moment they decide to opt for the OCI card.
A Single Application Form For The Family
In the earlier dispensation, each member of the family was to apply on a separate form. It also required an oath of allegiance to be sworn in before the Indian consular staff and declaration of immovable properties and the list of family members living outside India. In comparison, the new application form has provision for the whole family i.e. the spouse and up to two minor children to apply together. Various requirements, not needed in deciding the OCI registration have also been done away with. The overall form, it itself, has been greatly simplified bringing in clarity and transparency. Earlier, applications could be made in the respective country of citizenship only, whereas now Overseas Indians can also apply in country where they are ordinarily residing. The condition of oath of allegiance has been done away with. Within India, however, only FRRO and the Ministry of Home Affairs have been authorized to receive applications for OCI. The required fees of US $ 275 for grant of OCI can be deposited in equivalent local currency. A provision has also been made that the existing PIO cardholders can also apply for OCI, if so eligible, on payment of nominal fees of US$ 25 only. The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs has been asked to further examine and work out the modalities of issuing a ‘Smart-card’ to registered OCIs.
Simple Timebound Procedure
Indian Missions have been authorized to grant OCI with 15 days to such cases wherein there is no involvement in serious offences like drug trafficking, moral turpitude, terrorist activities or anything leading to imprisonment of more than a year. For such cases the Mission can send the matter to MHA for post verification after granting OCI. But in cases, where there is some involvement and crime record is declared, the Ministry of Home Affairs will clear the cases within three months after prior inquiry in to the antecedents of the individual. If someone is found to have acquired OCI certificate on false information, the certificate will be cancelled forthwith

*Director (PR), PIB, New Delhi.

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