A young Indian family migrated to Canada back in the early 1970s. With them came a young married man and his wife and two kids. Most of their relatives had moved to Canada in the years before. It only made sense to follow. The wife’s parents had already passed away. There wasn’t much in India left for her. The son left behind his parents and the bungalow they owned.
Years passed, they became Canadian citizens, and prospered in Canada. The parents in India eventually died. The son went back home to attend his father’s funeral but found the bungalow occupied by another family. The family claimed ownership rights. The son threatened to sue but found he couldn’t legally do anything. He was no longer an Indian citizen. Even though the home had been in the hands of his parents, their death meant the property came in the hands of the government. The son’s Canadian citizenship meant he had forfeited his Indian citizenship and had no legal claim to property in India.
Cases like this have happened many times to NRIs who haven’t been able to understand India’s nationality laws and rushed into a foreign citizenship. The Indian citizenship and Indian passport must be formally renounced once a foreign citizenship is claimed: a dual citizenship does not exist in India. Among the privileges you lose thus are the ability to vote in Indian elections, to run and hold public office, and legal claims to property. In order to maintain some of these privileges, Indian embassies offer quasi-citizenship options. Unfortunately, these options are very confusing. Getting accurate information on these citizenship options is difficult as embassy websites of different countries offer conflicting information, usually muddled in a lot of legal language. In simple ABC terms, this article seeks to clarify the three generally confused terms in Indian citizenship law: NRI, OCI, and PIO.
As you all know, the acronym NRI means non-resident Indian, any Indian living abroad. An NRI can be a citizen of Indian or a citizen of another country. Let’s say you move to the United States. You’re still an Indian citizen. Let’s say you get married and want to become American. You will need to renounce your Indian citizenship to do this. Once this happens, you become a PIO, a Person of Indian Origin living abroad. Now, to go back to India, you’ll need a Visa. You can go this route but if you want some physical claim to your homeland, you must entertain other options.
From here you have two options: apply for a PIO (Person of Indian Origin) card or an OCI (Overseas Citizenship of India) card. What are the differences between the two? Let’s explore both cards.
The PIO card offers a set of privileges that are valid for 15 to 20 years. These privileges include; visa free entry into India, exemption from registering at the Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office for stays less than 180 days, economic, financial, and educational parity with regular Indians, legal claims to property and the ability to open bank accounts in Indian banks. After the 15 years, the PIO card must be renewed. Foreign-born children are eligible. If you’ve been a citizen of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Nepal, Pakistan or Sri Lanka, you’re not eligible for the PIO card.
The OCI card is the closest thing to having a real dual citizenship in India. In a sense, it is an upgraded version of the PIO. Like the PIO card, it shares many of the same privileges. Unlike the PIO card, it is more restrictive in membership. Foreign-born children aren’t eligible. The procedure and processing time to get one is longer. Finally, in order to be eligible, you must have been born in India on or after the date of January 26th, 1950. Unlike the PIO, the OCI card lasts lifelong and never expires. With it, you’re always allowed back to India anytime and can stay for as long as you want without reporting to the Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office. Like the PIO, you get legal claims to property and have economic, financial, and educational parity with regular Indians.
The last comparison in the two cards is their differing requirements for regaining Indian citizenship. With a PIO card, you can apply for Indian citizenship after being a resident of India for 7 years. With an OCI card, it takes 5 years, with at least 1 year of permanent residency in India. In both cases, you must forfeit your foreign citizenship.
Overall, the differences between the cards are minute: the OCI card is option closest to a dual citizenship and the PIO is like the OCI-lite. Nonetheless, both offer NRIs the appropriate privileges they need to protect assets in India.
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