Changed OCI card rules raise some dust

By The SATimes Team

New York: The gazette notification last week from the Indian Home Ministry making some changes to the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card, which extends a lifelong visa facility to Indians settled abroad, has raised some dust. While the ministry has said that the new guidelines are a consolidated list of earlier notifications, with some clarifications, many feel that certain privileges extended to foreign citizens of Indian origin are now being snatched away.

According to the new notification, OCI cardholders are now required to take permission from the authorities to indulge in any missionary, Tabligh, mountaineering, research or journalistic activities in the country or to visit protected, restricted or prohibited areas.

On the negative side, OCI cardholders are now like foreign nationals, but on the plus side, they get parity with Indian nationals in domestic airfare tariffs or entry fees for national monuments, parks and museums in India.  They can also appear for all-India entrance tests such as NEET, JEE to allow them to be admitted to any NRI seat.

Critics of the new notification describe it as the end of India’s experiment with dual citizenship. Congress party has called new curbs on OCI an insult, asking for revoking them.

GOPIO (Global Organization of People of Indian Origin) is not happy either. “When PIO card was announced with fanfare at the first Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas, we thought that was a great policy direction. Later, Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani introduced the OCI amendment act in Parliament, which was a bright spot for attracting NRIs to India, bringing investments and starting new businesses. So far OCI card holders were treated at par with resident Indians. However, with the new notification, some of the new clauses will hurt OCI card holders doing business in India. Once they are termed as foreign nationals, they have to take permission for many things including conducting research in a company owned by OCI Card holder,” Dr. Thomas Abraham, Chairman, GOPIO International said in a statement to The South Asian Times, adding, “GOPIO is studying these new clauses and getting feedback from our members. We will send a response letter to the Government of India soon.”

But when asked, FIA (Federation of Indian Associations) – NY-NJ-CT President Anil Bansal played down the controversy: “It seems like our own countrymen, including the Congress party, are bent upon destroying India’s image in the eyes of the world. First of all, OCI never was dual citizenship. There were many, many benefits which are all still there. Because people were misusing the card, the government is restricting journalism, missionary activities, and travel to restricted areas. For all law-abiding, overseas Indians, nothing has changed. Please remember that VISA/OCI to any country is always a privilege and never a right. All governments of all countries reserve the right to give or take back benefits to any traveler. Please note that the OCI card is a great document to have to maintain a connection to our beloved India. All the advantages you have known, are still there. Do not fall for false propaganda.”

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