Title :        Commercial Law - Dual Citizenship to Overseas Indians
   Author : Akshay Kumar*  

"I am happy to announce that we have decided to extend the facility of dual citizenship to all overseas Indians who migrated from India after 26th January, 1950, as long as their home countries allow dual citizenship under their local laws. I do hope that a day will come when every single overseas Indian who wishes to secure Indian citizenship will actually be able to do so." Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh.

I was present at the inaugural ceremony of the Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas, 2005 at Mumbai when this announcement was made by the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh in his inaugural address. The thunderous applause and the

enthusiasm, with which this announcement was received by the audience which included a large number of People of Indian Origin in the jam packed Kohli Stadium of Mumbai, is still vivid in my memory. However, after the function was over there were cautious enquiries from thousands of overseas Indian delegates as to how and when the PM's announcement will be put to implementation.

Ordinance promulgated - However, the Government has been quick to fulfil the Prime Minister's commitment. The promulgation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Ordinance, 2005 on 28th June is a significant step in this direction. **According to the Ordinance all the people of Indian origin in various countries, except Pakistan and Bangladesh, whose parents/grandparents migrated from India after 26th January, 1950 or were eligible to become Indian citizen on 26th January, 1950, or belonged to a territory that became part of India after 15th August, 1947, will become eligible to be registered as the Overseas Citizens of India (OCI).

OCI cardholder will be entitled to visit India at any time, for any length of time and for any purpose.

Benefits - The persons getting themselves registered as the Overseas Citizens of India will enjoy a number of benefits. They will be entitled to a new type of visa called U visa which will be a multipurpose, multiple entry life long visa. This means that an OCI cardholder will be entitled to visit India at any time, for any length of time and for any purpose. There will not be any need for them to report to police as the OCI cardholders have been exempted from reporting to the police for any length of stay in the country. Such persona have also been granted all rights in the economic, financial and educational fields at par with NRIs except, the right to acquisition of agricultural or plantation properties.

Background - With the policies of economic liberalisation followed during the last 10-15 years, India has emerged in the community of nations as a country, which is capable of playing a significant role in various developmental sectors particularly the knowledge-based industries. India's expertise in the field of IT has been acknowledged the world over. It is also now emerging as a major destination in sectors like health, education and tourism. This has given a new sense of purpose and identity to millions of persons of Indian origin, living in various countries, to trace their roots and participate in this process without compromising their obligation to the country of their adoption. On the other hand, India also needs the benefit of their experience and expertise as Indian emigrants have made remarkable contributions to their host countries and have come to occupy the pride of place there. They have emerged as entrepreneurs, workers, teachers, researchers, inventors, doctors, lawyers, engineers, managers and administrators. Their success can rightly be attributed to India's traditional ethos, its cultural values and heritage, its educational aptitude and qualifications and its capacity to harmonise and adapt. By playing a leading role in the global technological revolution, they have transformed India's image abroad.

To fulfil these aspirations, the overseas Indians have been demanding dual citizenship for a long time. The Government too has been sympathetic to this demand. The scheme of PIO cards with a validity of 15 years was initiated in 2002. Later, in 2003 a legislation for providing the facility of dual citizenship to People of Indian Origin in 16 specified countries, viz., Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Republic of Cyprus, Sweden, Switzerland, U.K. and USA; was passed by the Parliament. The latest Ordinance as a follow up of the PM's announcement is significant as it has not only widened the scope and eligibility criteria for registration, as Overseas Citizen of India for people of Indian origin of all countries but has also come out with a much simplified procedure and a format that has removed various existing hassles and allows the applicants to feel at home, the moment they decide to opt for the OCI card.

Now Overseas Indians can also apply in country where they are ordinarily residing.

Single application form for family - In the earlier dispensation, each member of the family was to apply on a separate form. It also required an oath of allegiance to be sworn in before the Indian consular staff and declaration of immovable properties and the list of family members living outside India. In comparison, the new application form has provision for the whole family, i.e., the spouse and up to two minor children to apply together. Various requirements, not needed in deciding the OCI registration, have also been done away with. Earlier, applications could be made in the respective country of citizenship only, whereas now Overseas Indians can also apply in country where they are ordinarily residing. The condition of Oath of Allegiance has been done away with. Within India, however, only Foreigners Regional Registration Office ( FRRO) and the Ministry of Home Affairs have been authorised to receive applications for OCI. The required fees of US $ 275 for grant of OCI can be deposited in equivalent local currency. A provision has also been made that the existing PIO cardholders can also apply for OCI, if so eligible, on payment of nominal fees of US$ 25 only. The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs has been asked to further examine and work out the modalities of issuing a `Smart-card' to registered OCIs.

Simple timebound procedure - Indian missions have been authorised to grant OCI status within 15 days to such cases wherein there is no involvement in serious offences like drug trafficking, moral turpitude, terrorist activities or anything leading to imprisonment of more than a year. For such cases the mission can send the matter to MHA for post verification after granting OCI certificate. But in cases, where there is some crime record, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) will clear the cases within three months after prior inquiry in to the antecedents of the individual. If someone is found to have acquired OCI certificate on false information, the certificate will be cancelled forthwith.

The Government has initiated steps to print the visa stickers and registration certificates for the OCI. Efforts are being made to make the scheme operational by 15th August this year.

And, if this materialises the Independence Day this year will have a special meaning for millions of overseas Indian who have been longing to see and visit and even participate in the progress and development of the country, where their roots lie.


*The author is Director (PR), PIB, New Delhi. This write-up is based on PIB Press Release, dated 26-7-2005.

**Related Bill has now been passed by the Rajya Sabha in the ongoing Parliament session and is pending in Lok Sabha.


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