The Union Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India (MHA) announced new rules on March 4, 2021, for Overseas Citizens of India (OCI), giving legal weight to the November 2019 guidelines it issued concerning the benefits enjoyed by OCI cardholders.
It is to be noted that the OCI notification 2021 replaces the three prior notifications issued by MHA on 11 April 2005, 5 January 2007, and 5 January 2009. These previous notifications did not specify the special permits required to engage in missionary, Tabligh, mountaineering, or journalistic activities.
The new notification is thus more of a consolidation of the older notifications issued on the subject, in accordance with the powers granted under Sub-Section (1) of Section 7B of the Citizenship Act, 1955.
What Are OCI Cards?
OCI cards are akin to a lifelong visa to live, work and travel freely in India.
OCI cardholders are not citizens of India but they do enjoy certain benefits that are not available to a foreign national.
So far, the Indian government has issued 37,72,000 OCI cards.
India's OCI Scheme
The Government of India's OCI scheme, which has been in operation since 2005 offers benefits such as a lifetime visa and exemption from registration with Foreigners Regional Registration Officers (FRRO).
When opposed to OCI cardholders, Non-Resident Indians (NRI) enjoy more benefits. For instance, NRIs have full voting rights for all elections and can run for public office. NRIs can also conduct research work without any prior permission.
OCI are neither permitted to vote nor are they allowed to run for public office. A detailed list of prohibited activities is given under section 7 of the Citizenship Act, as amended from time to time.
What Are the Changes for OCIs Under the New Notification?
- OCIs must procure special permission (or a special permit) to undertake the following activities:
- Research or journalistic activities
- Missionary or Tabligh activities
- Internships or employment with offices of any India based foreign diplomatic missions or foreign government organizations
- Visit any place in India notified by the Central government (or by any competent authority) as protected or restricted or prohibited place or area
- The special permission or permit is to be granted by a specified relevant authority, or the FRRO, or the concerned Indian Mission.
- It is mandatory for an OCI cardholder to notify the FRRO by email about any change in their permanent residential address or occupation
- No need to reissue an OCI card each time a new passport is obtained. Instead, an OCI card must be reissued once when a new passport is issued after reaching 20 years of age and again repeat the process upon completing 50 years of age "in view of biological changes in the face of the applicant"
- OCI cardholders are at par with Indian citizens in the matters of tariffs in airfares in Indian domestic sectors and entry fees for visiting Indian national parks, museums, wildlife sanctuaries, national monuments, and historical sites
- OCI cardholders are at par with Non-Resident Indians when it comes to sitting in all India entrance examinations such as JEE (Joint Entrance Examination)-Mains and Advanced, NEET for medical courses, and other tests. This makes an OCI cardholder eligible for admissions to any NRI or supernumerary seat that is over and above the sanctioned intake approved by the appropriate authority and government, from time to time. OCIs cannot apply for seats reserved exclusively for Indian citizens
- OCIs are permitted to buy immovable property in India but cannot purchase agricultural land or a farmhouse or plantation property
- OCI cardholders can apply for inter-country adoption of India born children subject to compliance with the adoption procedure laid down by the competent authority
- The notification also restored the lifelong visa to OCIs which was temporarily suspended in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic
There is not much clarity on whether the new regulations will have an effect on the government's decision to make an OCI eligible for appointment as permanent teaching faculty in premier educational institutions such as the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Indian Institute of Management (IIM), all Central universities, and All India Institute Of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) established under the Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana.
As of now, such recruitments are governed by Section 7B 2(I) of the Citizenship Act, 1955.
Who Is Eligible For an OCI Card?
The OCI program is not for citizens from Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The following individuals are eligible to apply for an OCI card:
- An individual who is a citizen of another country but was a citizen of India at the time of or at any time after, the commencement of the Indian Constitution
- A citizen of another country who belonged to a territory that became part of India after 15 August 1947; a child or a grandchild or a great-grandchild of such a citizen
- An individual whose either parent or grandparent or great grandparent was born in and was a permanent resident of India provided neither was a citizen of Pakistan or Bangladesh at any time or any other country that may be specified by the Indian government
- An individual whose parents or grand-parents were born in India as defined in the Government of India Act, 1935 (as originally enacted), and who was ordinarily residing in any country outside India
- A minor child whose either one of the parents or both the parents are Indian Citizens
- A foreign national who is a spouse of a citizen of India/OCI cardholder and whose marriage has been registered and subsisted for not less than 2 years
- Any individual who has at any time held an Indian passport
OCIs are technically citizens of another country who are granted several rights and freedoms enjoyed by Indian citizens.
The Merger of the PIO (Persons of Indian Origin) & OCI Schemes
The Government of India on January 9, 2015, issued a notification regarding the merger of PIO and OCI.
As per the notification, all existing PIO card holders registered under the new PIO card scheme of 2002 are to apply for an OCI card.
Learn more about the differences between PIO and OCI.
The Indian Consulates abroad have extended the deadline to convert PIO cards to OCI cards until December 31, 2021.
While the new notification extends additional benefits to OCI cardholders, it also has put many restrictions especially on employment and educational opportunities. As per the new rules, the OCI cardholders have been placed in the category of foreign nationals.
It is apparent that getting dual citizenship in India is still far-fetched. But OCI is the closest thing to it.