On 4th March 2021, the Ministry of Home Affairs in India came out with a notification that brings about substantial changes to the rights and liberties of Overseas Citizens of India (“OCI”).
The amendments had come into effect from the date of publication, which was the 4th of March 2021.
Who is an Overseas Citizen of India?
For the purposes of this Notification, an OCI Cardholder is one who is not a Citizen of India and holds the passport of a foreign country. Broadly to hold an OCI, one must be an Indian by birth and has relinquished his / her citizen to take up the citizenship of another country or a person who is a foreign citizen by birth but his or her parents or grandparents were Indian citizens by birth.
OCI Cardholders are possibly the closest status to a dual citizenship, where an OCI cardholder is treated at par with a regular Indian citizen except in areas like right to vote or right to purchase of agricultural land and other reasonable restrictions. However, it is pertinent to note that India does not recognize dual citizenship.
While OCI Cardholders and Non-Resident Indians do enjoy similar benefits, an OCI, unlike an NRI, cannot vote in elections. OCI Cardholders are also restricted from purchasing agricultural land and standing for public office. An NRI can also visit India for research purposes without requiring permissions to undertake the same.
For avoidance of doubt NRI means a person who is holding an Indian Passport but ordinarily living outside the territory of India.
In pursuance of this Notification, the following are the changes that have now come into effect:
- An OCI Cardholder would need special permits from competent authorities like Missionary or Tabligh or Mountaineering or Journalistic activities, visits for research and undertake an internship in any foreign Diplomatic Missions or foreign Government organizations in India or to take up employment in any foreign Diplomatic Missions in India and visiting any place which falls within the Protected or Restricted or prohibited areas as notified by the Central Government or competent authority.
Such mandates to seek necessary approval were not present in the earlier notifications by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs.
- Now an OCI cardholder is not required to register with the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) except in cases where the cardholder is changing his / her place of ordinary residence in India or their occupation. Earlier, any stay by an OCI beyond 180 days in India required mandatory registration with the FRRO.
- The notification of 4 March 2021 also places OCI Cardholders on the same pedestal as Indian nationals in matters regarding entry fees towards visits to national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, historical sites, national monuments, and museums. The notification also ensures that parity is maintained between Indian nationals and OCI Cardholders with respect to the tariffs in airfares in domestic sectors in India.
- Additionally, parity will also be maintained between OCI cardholders and Non-Resident Indians (“NRIs”) with respect to the following matters:
- Inter-country adoption of Indian children provided that all procedures laid down by the competent authority for adoption are complied with;
- OCI Cardholders will be eligible for admission exclusively against the seats in all-India entrance tests for Non-Resident Indians or any other supernumerary seat, and not against any seat that is exclusively for Indian citizens;
- OCI Cardholders will also be treated equally with regards to matters concerning purchase or sale of immovable properties other than farmhouse, plantation property, or agricultural land;
- NRIs and OCI Cardholders will be treated in parity when pursuing professions in India such as doctors, advocates, dentists, pharmacists, chartered accountants, and architects.
- The Notification also reads that OCI Cardholders shall be provided with the same rights and privileges as a foreigner in matters concerning all other financial, economic, and educational fields that have not been discussed in the Notification or the rights and privileges not touched upon by the notifications under the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 (FEMA) issued by the Reserve Bank of India.
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