‘The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2015’ (“Act”) received the President’s assent and was notified in the official gazette on 10 March 2015 and is deemed to have come into effect retrospectively from 6 January 2015. The Act introduces the concept of ‘Overseas Citizens of India (“OCI”) Cardholders’ which merges together the OCI and the Persons of Indian Origin (“PIO”) schemes. Further, vide notification dated 9 January 2015, the Central Government specified that from the date of the said notification, all the existing PIO cardholders shall be deemed to be OCI cardholders.
The Act intends to streamline the norms for immigration by amending the provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955 (“Principal Act”) which regulates the acquisition and determination of citizenship and details registration of overseas citizens of India and their rights.
Much hue and cry was raised in the parliament with regards to the Citizenship (Amendment) Ordinance, 2015 (“Ordinance”) dated 6 January 2015 promulgated by the President to bring in the amendment to the Principal Act. The Government of India (“GOI”) defended its plan of action necessitated to honor the Prime Minister’s commitment in the USA and Australia to absorb PIO card scheme into the OCI card scheme. Currently, Indian Constitution does not have provisions for dual citizenship, but GOI has said that the OCI Card is ‘close to citizenship status’ for an expatriate Indian.
PIOs and OCIs essentially enjoy certain rights in India, at par with Indian nationals.
The PIO scheme was formulated in the year 1999 and was subsequently revised in the year 2002. PIOs could visit India without visa for 15 (fifteen) years and were exempted from registration as a foreigner if their visit to India did not extend upto 180 (hundred and eighty) days. Further relaxation had been provided to PIOs in 2014 by granting lifetime validity for entry in India.
The OCI scheme was introduced in the year 2003. OCIs are entitled to multipurpose, multiple entries and lifelong visa, allowing them to visit India at any time and for any length of time. They are also exempted from police reporting for any duration of stay in the country.
The decision to amend the Principal Act, was taken after several complaints were received from PIOs who had to face more stringent norms in comparison to OCIs. Requests and representations from the Indian diaspora living in the US, Canada, Australia, and different parts of the world led GOI to take a stand on merging the PIO and OCI schemes. This has come as a relief to millions of PIOs across the world since they can avail various benefits in India under the OCI scheme though they continue to hold a foreign passport.
Key benefits of the OCI scheme:
- Multiple entry, multi-purpose lifelong visa to visit India
- Exemption from reporting to police authorities for any length of stay in India;
- Parity with Non-Resident Indians (“NRIs”) on inter-country adoption
- Parity with NRIs in respect of economic, financial and educational fields, except in relation to acquisition of agricultural or plantation properties.
Highlights of the Act
- Relaxes certain requisites with regards to citizenship by registration and naturalization.
- Amalgamates PIO card scheme with the OCI card scheme.
- Outlines qualifications for registering a person under the OCI card scheme.
- Outlines conditions for renunciation and cancellation of overseas citizenship.
- Provides 30 (thirty) days break to persons who apply for Indian citizenship if they have to leave India for some time.
- Provides that, should a person cease to be an OCI cardholder, the spouse of foreign origin of that person, who has obtained OCI card under section 7A(1)(d) of the Principal Act, and every minor child of that person registered as an OCI cardholder shall thereupon cease to be an OCI cardholder.
- Gives power to the union government to cancel the OCI card obtained by the spouse of an Indian citizen if the marriage is dissolved by a court or the spouse enters another marriage while the first marriage has not been dissolved.
- Citizen of Pakistan or Bangladesh or any other country which is notified by the central government will not be eligible to apply for an OCI card.
- Central government may, if it is satisfied that special circumstances exist, after recording the circumstances in writing, register a person as an OCI.
Our next post shall outline the rights of the OCI cardholders with regards to buying immovable property in India.
 “7A. (1) The Central Government may, subject to such conditions, restrictions and manner as may be prescribed, on an application made in this behalf, register as an Overseas Citizen of India Cardholder—
- any person of full age and capacity, —
- who is a citizen of another country, but was a citizen of India at the time of, or at any time after the commencement of the Constitution; or
- who is a citizen of another country, but was eligible to become a citizen of India at the time of the commencement of the Constitution; or
- who is a citizen of another country, but belonged to a territory that became part of India after the 15th day of August,1947; or
- who is a child or a grandchild or a great grandchild of such a citizen; or
- a person, who is a minor child of a person mentioned in clause (a); or
- a person, who is a minor child, and whose both parents are citizens of India or one of the parents is a citizen of India; or
- spouse of foreign origin of a citizen of India or spouse of foreign origin of an Overseas Citizen of India Cardholder registered under section 7A and whose marriage has been registered and subsisted for a continuous period of not less than two years immediately preceding the presentation of the application under this section.
A PIO was a foreign citizen who (i) held at any time an Indian passport, (ii) has either parents, grandparents or great grandparents who were born in and were permanent residents of India, or is a spouse of a citizen or other persons referred to in (i) and (ii). (Complete definition can be found here).