Here is Modi’s belated new year’s gift to non-resident Indians

Time to come home.
Time to come home.
Image: Reuters/Lucas Jackson
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Non-resident Indians of the world, rejoice!

President Pranab Mukherjee has just signed the Citizenship Amendment Ordinance that has significantly expanded the categories of individuals who are eligible to register as an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI).

These include:

  • Minors, whose parents are Indian citizens
  • Any adult who is a child or a grandchild or a great grandchild of an Indian citizen
  • Spouse of a citizen of India or an OCI if they’ve been married for over two years

The ordinance, which takes on from the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2011 introduced by the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, also proposed to merge the PIO (people of Indian origin) and OCI schemes.

That’s something prime minister Narendra Modi promised before some 20,000 overseas Indians at New York’s Madison Square Garden last year.

To be sure, the PIO and OCI schemes aren’t really that different (pdf) from each other, except for some clauses in eligibility criterion and naturalization requirements. PIO holders have to register with local authorities after every 180 days in the country.

PIO cards were previously typically valid for 15 years, while OCI holders are granted life-long visas.

But those cards grant foreign citizens of Indian descent with economic, financial and educational rights, with the exception of purchasing agricultural property. Moreover, they cannot vote or hold constitutional office in India.

There were over 1.3 million OCI card holders (in July 2013), with the majority issued to Indians living in the US, UK, Australia and Canada, while about 11.8 million non-resident Indians (pdf) were estimated to be PIO holders in 2012.