Citizenship in India can be of different types: citizenship by birth, by descent, by naturalization or by registration. India also grants certain rights to overseas citizens to allow persons to continue to avail a certain type of Indian citizenship while being a citizen of foreign country.
Globalization and increased immigration has meant that citizenship rules of any country are an important factor for its growth and economy. Citizenship is in India is also particularly important because of the various types of Indian citizenship that may be offered- a person can be a naturalized citizen, a citizen by descent, Overseas Citizen, etc. The different types of citizenship can have an effect on the rights granted to the person, their taxability and investment opportunities that a person can be provided in India.
Indian citizenship rules and regulations are mainly governed by the Citizenship Act of 1955 (‘Citizenship Act’). The Citizenship Act has been amended many times, most recently in 2019 when new rules were introduced for migrants from persecuted communities.
The Citizenship Act states that a person can be provided citizenship in India through the following ways:
Prior to the Citizenship Act coming into effect, the persons resident in India or born in India at the time of commencement of the Indian Constitution, were considered Indian citizens.
Understanding the following terms is also important to understanding citizenship in India:
According to Section 3 the following persons are ineligible from being an Indian citizen by birth:
Citizenship by descent is applicable for persons born outside of India but whose parents are Indian citizens and the birth is registered with the Indian consulate at the place of birth. The rules for determining Indian citizenship by descent are laid down in section 4 of the Citizenship Act.
A person will be granted citizenship by descent if they are born in any of the following three ways:
A person can register to be a citizen by making an application for registration with the Central Government if they are not an illegal immigrant and fall within any of the following categories:
Under this form of citizenship, the eligible person has to make an application to the Central government who will then approve the citizenship based on whether they meet the criteria therein. Ordinarily resident under this section means that the person should have been residing in India for the preceding 12 months from the date of application of citizenship, and has resided in India for the 8 years prior to that.
A person can register to be a citizen by making an application for grant of naturalization, with the Central Government if they are not an illegal immigrant and fall within the requirements of the third schedule of the Citizenship Act. Any person that receives approval, and takes the oath of allegiance will be considered a naturalized citizen of India from that date on.
Qualification requirements for naturalization:
Dual citizenship is not allowed under the Indian Constitution. A person is not allowed to hold an Indian citizenship and the citizenship of a foreign country, at the same time. However, India does allow the registration of persons of Indian origin as an ‘Overseas Citizen of India’ (known as OCI cardholder). OCI cardholders are not considered Indian citizens but are granted similar rights through this special status.
An overseas citizenship is also helpful in times of investment into India, as overseas citizens are provided relaxations in foreign direction investment regulations. Receiving registration under this category will allow a person to retain rights in India while being a citizen of a foreign country. New rules have also been introduced in March 2021 to provide certain more rights to OCI cardholders.
Persons of Indian origin that qualify under the below rules, should make an application with the central government to register as an ‘overseas citizen of India’.
The qualification criterion is as follows:
Hence, to register as an overseas citizen, the person must be an adult that qualifies along the above rules or the minor child of an adult that also qualifies along the above rules.
As of March 2021, new guidelines have been released to regulate overseas citizens. The guidelines have relaxed some restrictions and provided greater rights to OCI holders. After some of the constraints posed due to COVID, the relaxations were enacted so that the OCI holders could be at par with Indian nationals or non-resident Indians for certain cases.
The main provisions introduced by the notification are as follows:
If the visit is for any of the above reasons, the person will have to obtain a special permission or a special permit from the relevant ministry.
An amendment was brought into the Citizenship Act in 2019 to provide greater protection for migrants from certain persecuted regions or countries. According to the amendment, the persons belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December, 2014 and was provided an exemption from the central government , will not be considered an illegal immigrant.
This protection will be granted only to those persons that had entered India before the 31st of December 2014 as that is the new cut-off date. While the amendment was introduced to provide protection to persecuted communities, it has also been criticized for creating a classification based on religion and for not being inclusive of all religions.