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Modi wanted to reverse brain-drain but Indians continue to give up their passports in droves

Indian passport holders are not allowed to have dual citizenship.
REUTERS/Mohsin Raza
  • Manavi Kapur
By Manavi Kapur


Published Last updated

A growing number of Indians are renouncing their passports, and it’s the opposite of what prime minister Narendra Modi set out to achieve.

More than 600,000 of them changed their citizenship between 2017 and 2021, Nityananda Rai, the country’s junior home minister, told the Lok Sabha of parliament yesterday (Nov. 30). India does not offer dual citizenship yet, and people seeking citizenship in other countries must give up their Indian passport as per law.

Nearly 100,000 passports were surrendered each year since 2017, data shared by Rai showed. Till Sept. 30 this year, 110,000 people had taken the step—the most in five years.

These data are in tandem with the increase in the number of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards the government has issued since the policy was launched in 2006. The foreign ministry’s website puts that figure at 1.3 million as of May 2013. Recent estimates, though, suggest there are six million OCI card holders across the world.

An OCI card is issued to people of Indian origin for ease of travel and other administrative hurdles in India after having given up their Indian passports. Many of them may have even applied for the card long after switching passports.

Nevertheless, this sustained desire to leave the country, even if it meant giving up Indian citizenship, runs counter to what the Modi government promised to achieve in 2014—a conducive environment in the country that draws talent and reverses the brain-drain.

In the US alone, the most number of H-1B visa applications—nearly two-thirds—continue to come from Indians.

It may also have something to do with the Indian passport’s global unattractiveness.

India on the Henley passport index

India ranks poorly on the passport index brought out by Henley & Partners, a global citizenship and advisory firm based in London. The index assesses each country’s document based on the number of destinations it allows a person to visit without a prior visa.

As of 2021, India’s rank is 90 among 199 on the index. It has consistently dropped from 74 in 2013, the year before Modi was elected as prime minister.

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