THE CONTEXT: In a stunning development for Overseas Citizens of India (OCIs), the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a notification on March 4 dramatically altering the compact between OCIs and the Indian state. It is saying that the notification is the end of India’s experiment with dual citizenship. The development has started a new debate. In this article, we will analyse the issue in detail.
Notification by the ministry of home affairs
The new notification issued under the section 7(B) of the Citizenship Act, 1955. Under this notification the rules and regulation for the OCIs has been rescheduled. This notification supersedes three earlier notifications which were issued in 2005, 2007 and 2009.
The OCI cardholder shall be required to obtain a special authorization/permit to visit India from the competent authority or the Foreigners Regional Registration Officer (hereinafter referred to as “FRRO”) or the Foreigners Registration Officer (hereinafter referred as to “FRO”) if the Indian mission visit is for following purposes:
- To undertake research;
- To undertake any Missionary or Tabligh or Mountaineering
- or Journalistic activities;
- To undertake an internship in any foreign Diplomatic Missions or foreign Government organizations in India or to take up employment in any foreign Diplomatic Missions in India;
- To visit any place which falls within the Protected or Restricted or prohibited areas as notified by the Central Government or competent authority.
For any time period to stay in India and the exemption from registration with the FRRO or FRO, the OCI cardholders can also claim exemption from registration with the FRRO or FRO. Necessary to mention the OCI cardholders who are ordinarily resident in India shall intimate the FRRO or the FRO through email every time there is a change in permanent residential address and their occupation.
Parity with Indians nationals in the matter of
- Tariffs in airfares in domestic sectors in India; and
- Entry fees to be charged for visiting national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, the national monuments, historical sites and museums in India.
Parity with non-resident Indians in the matter of
- Inter-country adoption of Indian children subject to the compliance of the procedure as laid down by the competent authority for such adoption;
- Appearing for the all India entrance tests.
- Provided that the OCI cardholder shall not be eligible for admission against any seat reserved exclusively for Indian citizens;
- Purchase or sale of immovable properties other than agricultural land or farm house or plantation property
- Pursuing the following professions in India as per the provisions contained in the applicable relevant statutes or Acts as the case may be, namely:-
(a) Doctors, dentists, nurses and pharmacists
(d) Chartered accountants.
Who are OCI citizens?
OCI citizens are of Indian origin; however, they are foreign passport holders and are not citizens of India. India does not allow dual citizenship but provides certain benefits under Section 7B (I) of the Citizenship Act, 1955 to the OCIs.
The ministry of home affairs defines a person as a oversees citizen of India who:
- Was a citizen of India on or After 26thJan 1950
- Was eligible to become a citizen of India on 26thJan 1950
- Is a child or grandchild of such person
But a person is not eligible of OCI; if his parents or grandparents have ever been the citizen of Pakistan or Bangladesh. This category was introduced by the government in 2005. The government of India via Citizenship (amendment) 2015 merged the person of Indian origin (PIO) category with OCI category.
How new ruling impacts the OCI card holders?
- Prohibits them from undertaking certain activities without prior permission of the Foreigners Regional Registration Officers (FRRO).
- Parity with Indian citizens in the matters of tariffs in air fares in domestic sectors in India and entry fees to be charged for visiting national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, the national monuments, historical sites and museums in India.
- Special permission to undertake research work or taking up employment in any foreign diplomatic missions in India will need permission.
- Prior permission will be needed if wants to visit any place that falls within the protected or restricted or prohibited areas.
- This regulation will impact the government’s 2018 decision that made an OCI eligible for appointment as permanent teaching faculty in a premier educational institution. Such recruitments are governed by Section 7B 2(I) of the Citizenship Act, 1955.
- It restored the lifelong visa to OCIs that was temporarily suspended in March 2020 in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
- An OCI cardholder to intimate the FRRO by email whenever there is a change in permanent residential address and in their occupation.
- Eligible for appearing in all-India entrance tests. This will only be against any NRI seat and shall not be eligible for admission against any seat reserved exclusively for Indian citizens.
- In a related case pending before the Karnataka High Court, the Centre had in March 2019 maintained the same stand. However, on 15 December 2020, the HC directed that students under the OCI category are to be considered citizens of India for admission to professional courses and not restrict their admissions only under the NRI quota.
Under the Foreigners (Restricted Areas) Order, 1963, the following areas have been declared as `Restricted’ Areas – Andaman & Nicobar Islands – Entire Union Territory and Sikkim – Part of the State.
- Whole of Arunachal Pradesh
- Parts of Himachal Pradesh
- Parts of Jammu & Kashmir
- Whole of Manipur
- Whole of Mizoram
- Whole of Nagaland Parts of Uttarakhand
OCI holders at par with NRIS?
- The new notification is making OCI cardholders par with Non-Resident Indians in the matter of inter-country adoption of Indian children.
- Appearing in the all India entrance tests and purchase or sale of immovable properties other than agricultural land or farm house or plantation property.
- They can pursue the professions in India as per the provisions contained in the applicable relevant statutes which include doctors, dentists, nurses and pharmacists, advocates, architects, chartered accountants.
Is the new notification an end for India’s experiment with dual citizenship?
In 2006, in order to meet calls for dual citizenship, India introduced the OCI card for foreign nationals of Indian descent. The OCI card allows foreign citizens of Indian origin to visit, live and work in India as citizens would. But there were many key restrictions:
- OCI card holders could not vote or participate in Indian politics
- Can’t occupy any positions in public service
- Can’t invest in agricultural land holdings
Moreover, it was hope that in future India will provide dual citizen to OCIs card holders and for that Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor introduced a bill in Parliament to amend the Indian Constitution and allow dual citizenship for Indians. But, the new notifications are being seen as a step backward from granting dual citizenship to people of Indian origin who are citizens of foreign countries.
What is dual citizenship and why does India need it?
Introducing dual citizenship means that foreign citizens would be allowed to hold Indian passports and exercise all rights of an Indian citizen including participating in politics, policy and governance.
Why does India need Dual citizenship?
For Indian diaspora:
- It would open the floodgates for a diversely skilled group of professionals to come back home, infusing India’s somewhat insular and protectionist policymaking apparatus with much-needed international expertise.
- Dual citizens will bring Indian policymaking the benefits of global perspectives and lessons from global best practices.
To expand foreign policy:
- For years, Indian foreign policy discourse has suffered from introversion and fence-sitting on matters of international politics and security. A large part of the domestic debate on foreign policy is restricted to the immediate neighbourhood – and often just one country out of them all: Pakistan.
- They will also be more invested in steering Indian foreign policy discourse towards discussion on increasing India’s global influence, rather than on less meaningful populist chest-thumping: After all, many of them changed their passports in large part because of the consequences of India’s underwhelming global influence (the Indian passport is currently ranked 86 out of 109 positions on travel freedom – below Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone).
Easy citizenship by foreign countries:
- Many Indians abroad change their passports for very practical reasons seeking access to a higher quality of life, high-paying jobs in multilateral organisations where Indian citizens are over-represented, or merely for mobility and travel freedom.
- Between 2014 and 2017, 4.5 lakh Indians opted for citizenship of another country. As foreign countries offer easy citizenship in exchange for cash and investments, the trend is only set to grow.
- Dual citizenship will more fully leverage the political influence of Indians abroad by giving them a more direct stake in India’s development – and more meaningful roles by which to contribute to it. If Indian dual citizens return home to be in politics or government, they are more likely to do so in order to fix many of the developmental challenges that forced their migration, rather than to serve any ‘grand designs’ of foreign sabotage in India
Others countries are offering dual citizenship:
- Eighty-five countries in the world offer dual citizenship. India needs to join this long list to avoid embarrassments such as an Indian winning the Nobel Prize but not being an Indian citizen.
But the new notification of government of India is against the demand of modern times that makes OCIs card holder as par Indian Citizens in some cases but restricted in some other cases and make them as par the NRIs. Although there are some criticisms of dual citizenship like:
- the threat of having foreign citizens in positions of policymaking and power.
- How can Indians trust folks who owe allegiance to a foreign power.
But the problem with these arguments is that this approach is totally misunderstand the Indian diaspora spectacularly. Unlike several foreign citizens of Chinese or Russian descent, Indian-origin citizens in the West did not flee from their home country out of spite or suppression.
What are the options for India? Case studies from other countries
Many countries have found a way around the technical and security issues involved.
- Bangladesh requires its citizens to obtain a “dual nationality certificate” so that it can control who gets to take dual citizenship and under what circumstances.
- Brazilians can acquire another country’s passport but they must enter and exit Brazil only on the Brazilian passport.
- Canada actually encourages dual citizenship; the US discourages but allows it.
- If the concern is security, one can look at Pakistan, which allows its citizens to hold dual citizenship of only 16 other countries, doesn’t let dual citizens run for public office or join the military. Signing dual citizenship agreements with other countries helps prevent its misuse.
CONCLUSION: The introduction of dual citizenship is a great opportunity for India to expand its global influence and attract the world’s talent to aid its domestic growth. More importantly, it will reinstate India’s legacy as a civilisation that is open rather than insular, global rather than protectionist, and confident rather than insecure. For India’s aspirations to be a global power, there are few attributes more pertinent than those.
Difference between OCI card holder, PIO and NRI
Overseas citizen of India:
- OCI is an immigration status given to a foreign citizen of Indian origin as an alternative for dual-citizenship which is not allowed by the Indian Constitution.
- NRI is a residential status given to a citizen of India with an Indian Passport who resides in a foreign country for the purpose of work/business, or education.
Person of Indian origin:
- PIO is an identification status given to whom or whose any of the ancestors was a permanent Indian resident/citizen and who is currently holding valid citizenship and passport of another country.
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