New Guidelines on Overseas Citizenship of India

This article analyses the recent notification and changes in the governance and permissible activities on OCI cardholders. This notification overrides three previous ones issued in 2005, 2007, and 2009. OCI holders are often treated on an equal footing with regular Indian citizens. The article explains the activities and rights that OCI holders are now eligible for.

Wed Jun 29 2022 | National & Social | Comments (0)

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The Union Ministry of Home Affairs issued new rules for Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cardholders on March 4, giving legal weight to the November 2019 guidelines it issued regarding the benefits enjoyed by OCI cardholders. This new notice, issued under the authority of Sub-Section (1) of Section 7B of the Citizenship Act of 1955, will replace three previous ones issued on April 11, 2005, January 5, 2007, and January 5, 2009 respectively.

Although the notification provides OCIs with some additional benefits in terms of skilled institution admission, it also forbids them from participating in certain activities without first obtaining permission from the Foreigners Regional Registration Officers (FRRO). This special permission is required for activities like missionary, Tablighi, mountaineering, or journalism , as per the new notice. The prerequisite for such permission was not specified in previous notifications.

The new notification also ensures that OCI cardholders are treated equally with  Indian people when it comes to:

  • Domestic air fares and entry fees for visiting national parks,
  • Wildlife sanctuaries,
  • National monuments,
  • Historical sites, and
  • Museums in India.

Who are Overseas Citizens of India?

OCI cardholders are international passport holders of Indian ancestors but are not Indian residents. There are a few groups of Indian people who are entitled to hold an OCI card (with the exception of those who live in Pakistan or Bangladesh).They are the following:

  • An individual who is a citizen of another country but was a citizen of India at the time of, or sometime after, the Constitution's inception;
  • A citizen of another country who was qualified to become a citizen of India at the time of the Constitution's inception;
  • A citizen of another country who belonged to a territory that became part of India after 15 August 1947;
  • A child or grandchild of a citizen of another person who was a citizen of India at the time of, or any time after 15 August 1947;

OCI status may also be obtained by a foreigner who is married to an Indian citizen or an OCI cardholder and whose marriage has been registered and maintained for at least two years prior to the submission of the application. While an OCI cardholder is technically a citizen of another nation, he or she is given many of the same rights and freedoms as Indian citizens.

Benefits under India's OCI programme:

The Government of India's OCI programme, which has been in effect since 2005, offers benefits such as a lifetime visa and exemption from FRRO registration. It also gives them access to many of the same opportunities that NRIs and Indian people enjoy. When opposed to an OCI cardholder, NRIs have more advantages. NRIs, for example, have full voting rights in all elections. NRIs may run for public office and even buy farmland. NRIs are authorized to perform research work without obtaining prior permission.

Dual citizenship is not permitted in India, and OCI is the closest thing to it. OCI is a type of visa that allows you to live and work in India for the rest of your life. OCI cardholders do not need to register with the local FRRO, unlike tourists with other long-term visas such as work permits and student visas.

What do the new Rules change for OCIs?

An OCI cardholder will now require special permission to perform research as a result of the latest notice. Permission is necessary for any missionary or Tablighi activities, mountaineering or journalistic activities, internships in foreign diplomatic missions or foreign government organizations in India, or jobs in foreign diplomatic missions in India.

  • Prior permission will also be necessary if an OCI cardholder wishes to travel to any location within India that is designated as protected, limited, or prohibited by the Central government or any competent authority.
  • There is not much clarity yet on  the impact of this regulation on the government's 2018 decision to make an OCI eligible for permanent teaching faculty appointment in premier educational institutions such as IITs, IIMs, all Central universities, and AIIMS, founded under the Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana. As of now, Section 7B 2(I) of the Citizenship Act of 1955 governs such recruitments.
  • The notification also reinstated OCIs' lifetime visa, which had been briefly revoked in March 2020 following the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Via the notification, a new provision has been introduced that makes it mandatory for an OCI cardholder to notify the FRRO by email if their permanent residential address or occupation changes.
  • In addition, an OCI cardholder may now apply for inter-country adoption, according to the competent authority's procedures.

The new notification also makes OCI cardholders eligible to take all-India entrance exams including NEET for medical courses, JEE (Main and Advanced) for engineering, and other exams. This will only apply to any NRI or supernumerary seat that is more than the sanctioned intake approved by the appropriate authority and government on a case-by-case basis.

A holder of an OCI card is ineligible for admission to any seat reserved solely for Indian citizens. The government has always maintained that OCI cardholders are on an equal footing with NRIs and can only apply for NRI quota seats based on all-India exams. The Centre had taken the same stance in a similar case before the Karnataka High Court in March, 2019. However, on December 15, 2020, the Supreme Court of India ordered that students in the OCI category be deemed Indian citizens for admission to professional courses, rather than being limited to the NRI quota.

Conclusion

The Indian government's decision to limit certain privileges given to OCI cardholders is likely the result of a number of specific incidents. Prior to this, there had been many instances of OCI cardholders going to court to exercise their rights, especially in regards to admission to higher education institutions, science, and journalistic activities. The government has answered questions about these situations via this notice. The recent notification is also expected to close some loopholes in the OCI card system, which is important in light of particular cases involving fourth and fifth generation people of Indian descent, as well as spouses of OCI cardholders who were not PIOs but were entitled to OCI cards.

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