Citizenship of India: Eligibility and Requirements

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.

Wed Jun 29 2022 | Immigration, Appeal and Others | Comments (0)


Globalization and increased immigration has meant that citizenship rules of any country are an important factor for its growth and economy. Citizenship 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.

What are the Different Types of Citizenships in India?

The Citizenship Act states that a person can be provided citizenship in India through the following ways:

  1. By Birth
  2. By Descent
  3. By Registration
  4. By Naturalization

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:

  • Person under the Citizenship act does not include companies, associations, or any body of individuals.
  • Illegal immigrant under Indian law means a person that has travelled without a valid passport or travel document; or a person who has travelled with the valid documents but has stayed in India beyond the permitted time period.
  • Overseas citizen of India means any person registered as an overseas citizen under the Citizenship Act.
  • Person of Indian origin is any person who was born (or whose parents were born) in undivided, India or any territory that became India, post 15th August 1947.

Citizenship by Birth

  1. Born on or after 26th of January 1950 but before 1st July 1987.
  2. On or before 1st January 1986 and before the commencement of the Citizenship Act, 2003, and either of the parents were an Indian citizen at the time of birth.
  • On or after the commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment), 2003, and either both of the parents are citizens of India; or one of the parents is a citizen of India and the other one is not an illegal immigrant.

According to Section 3, the following persons are ineligible from being an Indian citizen by birth:

  1. If at the time of birth, either the father or mother is granted immunity from legal proceedings as an envoy from a foreign territory.
  2. If the father or mother is an enemy alien, and the place of birth of the person is in a territory under occupation of the enemy.

Citizenship by Descent

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:

  1. On or after 26th January 1950, but before 10th December 1992 if the father is a citizen of India at the time of birth. If the father is also a citizen by descent at the time of birth, then the birth has to be registered with the Indian consulate or the parents must be in government service at the time of birth.
  2. On or after 10th December 1992, if either of the parents are citizens of India. In this scenario, if either of the parents is a citizen by descent, then the birth should be registered with the Indian consulate or the parents must be in government service at the time of birth.
  • After 2003, for a person to be a citizen by descent, they have to be registered at the Indian consulate in the following ways:
    1. Within one year of the birth or commencement of the 2003 Amendment Act, whichever is later.
    2. With the permission of the central government, if the above period has expired.

Citizenship by Registration

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:

  1. A person of Indian origin who has been resident in India for more than 7 years.
  2. A person of Indian origin who is ordinarily resident outside India.
  • A person married to an Indian citizen and is ordinarily resident for a period of 7 years.
  1. Minor children of citizens of India.
  2. A person who has at least one parent that is registered as a citizen of India.
  3. An overseas citizen of India who has been an overseas citizen of India for at least 5 years and been resident in India for one year.
  • Either a person who was earlier a citizen of independent India or who has a parent who was a citizen of independent India, and has been resident in India for a period of one year.

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.

Citizenship by Naturalization

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:

  • The person is not a citizen of a country that prevents Indians from becoming citizens by naturalization in that State.
  • The person will renounce their citizenship in the event their Indian citizenship application is accepted.
  • The person has been a resident in India or been in government service for 12 months immediately before the application; and been a resident of India or in government service for the years preceding the 12 months.
  • The person is of good character.
  • The person has adequate knowledge of any language specified in the Indian Constitution.
  • The person intends to reside in India once the naturalization is complete.

Can you be a Dual Citizen: Overseas Citizens of India

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  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:

  • For persons that have reached the full age of majority (18 years), they must:
    • Be a citizen of another country but was a citizen of India either before or after the Indian Constitution came into force.
    • Is a citizen of another country, but is eligible to become a citizen of India, when the Indian Constitution came into force.
    • Is a citizen of a territory that became a part of India after August 1947 or is a child or grandchild of such citizens.
  • Any minor children of persons that qualify as above.

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.

New Rules for OCI Cardholders

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:

  • Grant of multiple entry lifelong visa: OCI cardholders are allowed to enter India multiple times for any purposes except if the visit is to undertake any of the following activities:
    • To undertake research,
    • To undertake any Missionary or Tabligh or Mountaineering or Journalistic activities,
    • To undertake internships or employment with any foreign diplomatic missions in India
    • To visit any protected or restricted place as notified by the central government.

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.

  • OCI cardholders will be exempt from having to register with the Foreign Regional Registration Officer, provided they notify if there are any changes to their permanent residential address or occupation.
  • OCI cardholders will be provided the status at parity with non-residents of India for the following cases:
    • Inter-country adoption of Indian children
    • Appearing for the all India entrance tests such as JEE and NEET.
    • Purchase or sale of immovable properties (except farmhouse, agricultural property or planation property).
    • Pursuing the professions of doctors, dentists, advocates, architects, and chartered accountants in India.

Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019

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.

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