Growing demand among NRIs to become overseas citizens of India (Diaspora Watch)

March 24th, 2009 - 1:38 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh By Kul Bhushan
Regular NRI visitors to India are increasingly switching from a five-year visa to either a PIO (Person of Indian Origin) Card that allows them visa-free entry for 15 years or an OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) status that allows them a life time entry and stay in India. This is the Indian version of the much sought after American ‘Green Card’.

Considering the current depression in the West, OCI status has become more attractive to overseas Indians, many of who are seriously thinking of resettling in India.

According to Indian officials, applications for OCI have increased remarkably in the last two years and especially after the announcement this January that NRI professionals such as doctors and dentists with OCI status will be allowed to practise in India. At the same time, Indian embassies are also encouraging NRIs to apply for OCI if they are eligible as it means that they do not require visas or even renewal of their PIO Card after 15 years.

So the issuance of OCI ‘mini-passports’ is taking more time than the original four to six weeks.

About 400,000 OCI cards have been issued; of these about 150,000 have been received and issued in India and the remaining from Indian embassies abroad. Many overseas Indians have discovered that applying for OCI is sometimes difficult and more time-consuming abroad than in India. So they apply when they are on a visit to India by giving their address in India.

In January 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced that the OCI scheme had been extended to all overseas Indians who migrated from India after Jan 26, 1950, as long as their home country allows dual citizenship in some form or the other.

Citizens of Pakistan and Bangladesh are not eligible for OCI.

Compared to PIO Visa, OCI has numerous advantages like multi-purpose, multiple entry, life-long visa for visiting India; no need to register with Foreigners Regional Registration Offices for any length of stay in India; and parity with NRIs for all facilities in economic, financial and educational fields except purchase of agricultural/plantation properties. However, registered OCIs cannot get government jobs or stand for election for any public office right from civic to national positions and appointments.

Still, the OCI is pretty close to becoming a full-fledged Indian citizen. Every registered OCI is issued with a registration certificate which looks like an Indian passport but in a different colour; and an OCI visa sticker is pasted in the person’s foreign passport.

The OCI application form, procedure and FAQs can be downloaded from the website of the Indian home ministry at www.mha.nic.in. The application should be accompanied with a demand draft of US$275 or equivalent in the local currency as application fees.

If the application is rejected, US$ 250 or equivalent in the local currency will be returned to the applicant after deducting US$25 as processing fees.

Before accepting an OCI application, the Indian chancery officials scrutinize it to ensure that the applicant is entitled to this status. Since there is room for some interpretation of rules and discretion, some applicants are rejected. This also implies the possibility of corruption.

The big problem for most applicants is their eligibility. The applicant has to provide documentary proof that his/her parents/grandparents migrated from India after Jan 26, 1950, or were eligible to be granted Indian citizenship on that date or were resident of Goa, Pondicherry (now Puducherry), Sikkim which merged with India after Aug 15, 1947. These family documents are not easy to come by or be traced.

Some overseas Indians have two passports. Fore example, Hari (named changed) migrated from India to Britain in the 1960s and later settled in Australia in 1980s. Since both the countries allow dual citizenship, he has both British and Australian passports.

Now under which passport does he apply for OCI? He wonders which passport would carry more weight for his OCI application.

In some cases, they have to go back to their villages and get evidence that their grandparents were resident there and provide proof of his/her relationship with this person. For example, Kanji (name changed), whose great grandparents migrated to East Africa in the 19th century. The travel documents for his great grandfather are not acceptable for OCI application. So he has to get an affidavit signed by the officer of his native village in Kutch and it should be attested by a magistrate for his application. Tracing his ancestors in his village and getting the paperwork done are not an easy task by any means.

Yet, more and more overseas Indians want that OCI mini-passport.

(24.03.2009-Kul Bhushan previously worked abroad as a newspaper editor and has travelled to over 50 countries. He lives in New Delhi and can be contacted at: kulbhushan2040@gmail.com)

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