Executive Summary: The Government recently promulgated an Ordinance which seeks to merge the Person of Indian Origin (PIO) and Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) Scheme. This was signed by the President of India, which means PIOs can now get lifelong visas similar to OCIs and also do not have to register with local police authorities if their stay exceeds 180 days. The merged scheme is expected to have features similar to the OCI scheme, which is wider in scope.
Indians living outside the country have time and again demanded for easier entry norms and privileges while they visit India. On the back of this, the Government recently announced changes in the PIO and OCI schemes, in order to appease the Indian Diaspora. Before we discuss on the recent announcements, let us briefly understand what is meant by PIO and OCI.
A PIO or a Person of Indian Origin is someone of Indian origin who was born in India or whose ancestors were born in India, but is presently not an Indian citizen and is a citizen of another country. A PIO card is issued to such people, provided certain conditions are satisfied with regard to his or his parents’, his grandparents’, his great grandparents’ residency in India. An OCI card or Overseas Citizenship of India card is also issued to persons who have an Indian origin, but are citizens of another country. The eligibility to hold an OCI card is however restricted to the citizenship of self, parent, grandparent, unlike a PIO card, where the fourth generation is also considered. OCI does not confer actual citizenship as interpreted by many, and therefore does not give dual citizenship to the holder.
Both PIO and OCI card holders have similar rights and privileges. They enjoy parity with NRIs with respect to the economic and financial rights. PIO and OCI card holders can apply for PAN card, open bank accounts, invest and earn income, subject to NRI rules. However, investing in agricultural and plantation land is not allowed. They also cannot vote and hold positions in Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, High Court and Supreme Court. There is no need for education visa and children of such card holders can be enrolled in educational institutions under the NRI quota.
There were two important differences between PIO and OCI schemes till the recent changes were announced:
•PIO card holders were given free visa for a limited period of 15 years. However, an OCI was eligible for multiple entry lifelong visa to enter India.
•A PIO card holder was required to register with local police authorities if they stayed in India for a period of over 180 days in a single visit. However, an OCI holder was exempt from this registration process.
There are many other differences in the fee, application procedure and other features between a PIO and OCI card. However, these differences will no longer exist, with the recent announcement by the Government in this regard.
When Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi visited USA and Australia last year, he had announced granting of lifelong visas to PIOs. Subsequently, the Government worked on a scheme which will merge both PIO and OCI schemes. On January 6, 2015, ahead of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, the President of India signed the Citizenship Ordinance amending the Indian Citizenship Act, which aims to merge the PIO and OCI schemes. This means PIOs will also get lifelong Indian visas, similar to OCIs. This also means that PIOs will be exempt from registration in case their visit exceeds 180 days in India. The Ordinance requires the Government to specify a date after which all PIO holders will be OCI holders. Another clause which will be relaxed, depending on circumstances of the case, is that which requires foreigners married to Indian citizens to continuously stay in the country for one year before applying for Indian citizenship.
The recent change announced by the Government which talks of a merged scheme is expected to retain many features of the OCI scheme, which is wider in scope.
The author regularly writes on personal finance and financial planning. She is associated with www.gettingyourich.com, a financial planning firm.