New Rules and Restrictions for OCI Card Holders

In this article, we will be discussing the revised rules and regulations issued by MHA for OCI holders.

In March 2021, the Indian government released a circular outlining the benefits available to Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cardholders in India. The new circular replaces the Government of India's previous notifications and circulars.

New guidelines for Overseas Citizens of India cardholders (OCI cardholders) were recently released by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India (MHA) via MHA notice dated 4 March 2021. (OCI Notification 2021).

The March 2021 circular makes a significant change to the reporting duties of OCI cardholders in India. They must now record any changes in their residence location or occupation.

Another notable reform was implemented a few years ago, requiring OCI cardholders to obtain a specific permit in order to engage in Tabligh activities. Older circulars and notices said that users of OCI cards needed special licences to engage in “missionary, journalistic, or climbing activities,” but did not name any specific groups.

OCI Card holders who want to do an internship or work for a foreign country's office in India must additionally get a special permit. Under the March 2021 announcement, this is a new requirement.
 
Changes At A Glance
  • Most Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholders do not need to have their OCI cards reissued every time they get a new passport.
  • Those having OCI cards issued before the cardholder was 20 years old, on the other hand, only need to get a new OCI card once when they get a new passport after turning 20.
  • There are new requirements for OCI cardholders who are under the age of 20 to notify the government when they receive a new passport, as well as for OCI cardholders who are married to Indian nationals or other OCI cardholders.
  • The government's eased OCI card re-issuance requirements decrease the administrative burden of needing to apply for a new OCI card and show the government's flexible attitude in the wake of recent restrictions for OCI card holders.
 
Overseas Citizen of India

Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) is a permanent residency status that allows people of Indian heritage and their spouses to live and work in India permanently. OCI status is not citizenship and does not provide the right to vote in Indian elections or hold public office, despite its name. The Indian government has the authority to revoke OCI status in a variety of situations. As of 2020, there are 6 million holders of OCI cards among the Indian Overseas diaspora.

The OCI scheme was introduced by The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2005 in response to demands for dual citizenship by the Indian diaspora. It gives Overseas citizens many of the same privileges as local citizens.

Anyone who has ever been a Pakistani or Bangladeshi citizen, or who is the child, grandchild, or great-grandchild of one, is ineligible for OCI status.

OCI cardholders are defined as people of Indian descent who are allowed to travel, live, and work in India permanently while maintaining their foreign citizenship under Section 7A of the Citizenship Act, 1955 (CZ Act). Despite the fact that OCI cardholders are not Indian citizens, they are entitled to certain advantages under Section 7B of the CZ Act. The MHA has recently issued the OCI Notification 2021, which clarifies the rules for OCI cardholders and is based on powers granted under Section 7B.
 
People Eligible To Be Registered As OCI

Individuals who, in general, qualify for registration as an OCI include:
  1. A person who has ever possessed an Indian passport;
  2. a person whose either parent, grandmother, or great grandparent was born in India and lived there permanently, provided that neither was ever a citizen of Pakistan, Bangladesh, or any other nation that the Government may specify from time to time;
  3. Any person born in India as defined in the Government of India Act, 1935 (as originally enacted), or whose parents or grandparents were born in India as defined in the Government of India Act, 1935 (as originally enacted), and who was ordinarily residing in any country outside India on or after 26.01.1950 was eligible to become a citizen of India.
  4. A young child whose parents are both Indian citizens or one of the parents is an Indian citizen; alternatively
  5. A foreign national who is the spouse of an Indian citizen/OCI cardholder and whose marriage has been registered and sustained for at least two years.
Individuals of Pakistani or Bangladeshi heritage are not eligible for the OCI programme.
 
Application For OCI Card
  • PIOs who have moved from India and earned citizenship in a foreign nation other than Pakistan or Bangladesh are eligible for Overseas Citizenship of India.
  • The following advantages come with OCI status:
  1. A visa that allows you to visit India multiple times and for multiple purposes for the rest of your life.
  2. No need to report to the police for the duration of your stay in India.
  3. Financial, economic, and educational parity with NRIs, save in the purchase of agricultural or plantation lands, and
  4. A person who has been registered as an OCI for five years and has lived in India for one year out of the five years prior to filing the application is eligible to apply for Indian citizenship under section 5(1) (g) of the Citizenship Act, 1955.
 
Benefits Of OCI

An OCI will receive the following benefits:
  1. Exemption from reporting to police authorities for any length of stay in India; and Financial, Economic, and Educational parity with NRIs, save in the acquisition of agricultural or plantation holdings.
  2. In the case of inter-country adoption of Indian children, registered overseas citizens of India will be regarded equally to non-resident Indians.
  3. In terms of flight fares in India's internal sectors, registered overseas citizens of India will be treated equally to resident Indian residents.
  4. When visiting India's national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, registered overseas Indian citizens will be paid the same entry cost as domestic Indian visitors.
  5. In terms of entry fees to be charged for visiting national monuments, historical sites, and museums in India, parity with non-resident Indians; Pursuing the following professions in India, in accordance with the provisions of the relevant Acts: doctors, dentists, nurses, and pharmacists; advocates; architects; chartered accountants;
  6. Non-Resident Indians have the same right to appear for the All India Pre-medical Test or other exams that will make them eligible for admission under the relevant Acts.
  7. “State governments should make sure that OCIs' registration booklets are used as identity for whatever services they receive. Overseas Citizens of India may give an affidavit attested by a notary public stating that a particular/specific address may be treated as their place of residence in India, and may also give their overseas residential address as well as e-mail address, if any.” Any other benefits to an OCI will be notified by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs.
 

The Following Benefits Are Not Available To OCI Card Holders.

The OCI is not allowed to vote, to serve in the Legislative Assembly, Legislative Council, or Parliament, to hold constitutional positions such as President, Vice President, Judge of the Supreme Court or High Court, or to work for the government in any capacity.
 
Change In Rules

The Modi government has decided to simplify the process for re-issuing Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards, which is intended to make the process much easier. On the orders of Union Home Minister Shri Amit Shah, this decision was made.

The OCI Card has proven to be extremely popular among foreigners of Indian heritage and spouses of Indian nationals or OCI cards, as it allows them to enter India with ease and stay indefinitely. The Indian government has issued around 37.72 lakh OCI Cards so far.

A foreigner of Indian heritage, a foreign spouse of an Indian citizen, or a foreign spouse of an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholder can all register as OCI cardholders under the current law. The OCI card is a visa that allows you to enter and reside in India for the rest of your life, as well as a number of additional significant benefits that are not available to other foreigners.

Due to biological changes in the applicant's face, the OCI card is currently required to be re-issued each time a new passport is issued up to 20 years of age and once after 50 years of age. The Government of India has decided to waive this criterion in order to make things easier for OCI cards. A person who has been registered as an OCI cardholder before the age of 20 must have the OCI card reissued just once when a new passport is issued after he or she has reached adulthood, in order for his or her facial features to be captured. There will be no need to re-issue an OCI card if a person has received registration as an OCI cardholder after reaching the age of 20.

To keep the data on new passports obtained by OCI cardholders up to date, it has been decided that each time a new passport is issued up to 20 years of age and once after 50 years of age, he or she must upload a copy of the new passport containing his or her photo and also a recent photo to the online OCI portal. Within three months of receiving the new passport, the OCI cardholder can upload these papers.

However, those who have been registered as OCI cardholders as spouses of foreign origin of a citizen of India or an OCI cardholder will be required to upload a copy of the new passport containing the passport holder's photo as well as a recent photo, as well as a declaration that their marriage is still valid, each time a new passport is issued. Within three months of receiving his or her new passport, the OCI cardholder spouse can upload these documents.

The information will be changed in the system, and the OCI cardholder will receive an auto acknowledgement through e-mail confirming that the revised information has been recorded. The OCI cardholder will be able to travel to and from India without restriction from the date of issue of his or her new passport till the date of final acknowledgement of his or her documents in the web-based system.

All of the following document uploading services will be available free of charge to OCI cardholders.
 
Key Changes Introduced

1. Multiple Entry Lifelong Visa:
While OCI cardholders are allowed lifelong repeated entries in India for any reason, they will now need to obtain a special permission (or a special permit) to engage in the following activities:
  • research activities;
  • missionary / Tabligh / mountaineering / journalistic activities;
  • internships or employment with any India-based, foreign diplomatic missions or foreign government organisations; and
  • visits to any areas or places notified as protected / restricted / prohibited space by the Central Government (or by any relevant authority).
A defined competent authority, the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO), or the appropriate Indian Mission would award the special authorization / permit.

2. No More Registration for Periods of Stay in India:
A defined competent authority, the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO), or the appropriate Indian Mission would award the special authorization / permit.

3. At Par With Indian Nationals:

  • Air costs inside India; and
  • Entry fees for museums, national parks, national monuments, wildlife sanctuaries, and historical sites in India.
4. At Par With Non-Resident Indians (NRIs):
  • inter-country adoption of India born children (subject to adherence and compliance with adoption procedure laid down under applicable laws and regulations);
  • appearing for the all-India entrance examinations, such as, JEE (Joint Entrance Examination) Advanced and Mains, NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test), or other tests that makes an OCI card holder eligible for admission to any NRI seat or any supernumerary seat (to clarify, OCI cardholders are not eligible to get admission for seats reserved exclusively for Indian citizens);
  • purchase or sale of immovable properties, except agricultural land, farmhouses, or plantation properties; and
  • pursuing specific profession of a doctor, dentist, nurse and pharmacist, lawyer, architect, or a chartered accountant in India (subject to stipulations under applicable laws and regulations).
5. At Par With Foreign Nationals:
  • Rights and privileges not covered by any notification issued by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) under the Foreign Exchange Management Act 1999; educational, economic, or
  • financial fields or aspects not categorically listed in the OCI Notification 2021;
  • rights and privileges not covered by any notification issued by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) under the Foreign Exchange Management Act 1999 (FEMA).
 
Pan/Adhaar Card Linking For NRI/OCI

It is mandatory to link Aadhaar with a PAN card, according to a direction from the Income Tax Department. If you fail to do so, your PAN card will become inactive, and you will be required to pay a penalty of Rs. 1000, according to the Finance Bill 2021. Not only resident Indians, but even OCIs and NRIs, were frightened by the recent PAN-Aadhaar connecting deadline.

However, whether OCIs and NRIs are obligated to link their PAN with Aadhaar is a moot point. The Government of India has declared (through Notification No. 37/2017, F. No. 370133/6/2017-TPL) that the provisions of Section 139AA do not apply to individuals who do not have an Aadhaar number or an Enrolment ID and who:
  • Current residents of the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Assam and Meghalaya.
  • Non-Resident Indians as defined by the Income Tax Act, 1961.
  • Individuals aged equal to or above anytime during the previous year.
  • Non-Indian citizens.
 
Old Passport Not Required For Travel To India

According to a government announcement, Indian diaspora with Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cards do not need to come to India with their old, expired passports. The OCI card, which is awarded to people of Indian heritage all over the world, allows them to enjoy practically all of the same benefits as an Indian national, with the exception of government services, voting rights, and the acquisition of agricultural land. Visa-free travel to India, multiple entries, and a lifelong visa to India are all advantages of having an OCI card.
 
Impact on Employment Opportunities

According to the OCI Notification 2021, any university, establishment, or organisation employing OCI cardholders in India as research scholars, journalists, interns, or employees in foreign diplomatic missions or foreign government organisations must ensure that the cardholders have the necessary permit in place prior to their engagement date. The prospect of legal action against employers / businesses if the aforementioned rule is broken cannot be discounted. Employers of OCI cardholders must also guarantee that their employees' residence addresses are updated with the FRRO. From an administrative sense, this may be inconvenient for both employers and employees.

It's important to remember that prior notifications treated OCI cardholders the same as NRIs in terms of economic, educational, and financial matters. OCI cardholders now enjoy the same rights as foreign nationals in any commercial, financial, or educational field not specifically included in the OCI Notification 2021, according to the OCI Notification 2021. This may have an influence on OCI Cardholders' employment chances in India.
 
Restrictions on Dual Citizenship

The Government of India announced the Overseas Citizenship of India initiative in August 2005, amending the CZ Act to answer the continuous desire for 'dual citizenship' by Indian origin persons who had taken up foreign citizenship. This put OCI cardholders on an equal basis with NRIs, but without any political privileges (such as the right to vote or hold public office). The OCI cardholders' rights and privileges have been further restricted with the adoption of the OCI Notification 2021. While OCI cardholders are still able to visit and exit India, the OCI Notification 2021 has placed new limits on their work and educational options. India looks to have taken a step back from dual citizenship progress with the implementation of new rules and restrictions, including placing OCI cardholders in the category of foreign nationals.
 
Provisions for People Registered As POI

The Government of India announced on January 9, 2015 that the Persons of Indian Origin and Overseas Citizens of India Schemes would be merged. All existing PIO card holders who registered under the new PIO card programme in 2002 are expected to apply for an OCI card, according to the statement.

Since the merger of the two schemes, the deadline for PIO card conversion has been extended numerous times to provide PIO card holders more time to submit their applications for registration as an OCI card holder. The Indian Consulates overseas recently issued press releases extending the deadline for PIO cardholders to change their PIO cards to OCI cards until December 31, 2012.
 
Registration and Reporting Requirements of OCI Card Holders

For whatever length of stay in India, OCI cardholders are exempt from registering with the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) or the Foreigners Registration Office (FRO). GPK's thoughts: Yes, according to a Ministry of Home Affairs notification of March 4, 2021.

When their residential address changes or their occupation changes, OCI card holders must notify the FRRO or FRO of the relevant jurisdiction through email.
 
Conclusion

For OCI cardholders, the new restrictions contain a combination of benefits and drawbacks. While cardholders will be treated equally to Indian nationals in terms of domestic airfare rates and entry costs to India's national parks, museums, and monuments, foreign Indians will need authorization to work and visit India's banned zones.

It is important to note that the OCI Notification 2021 replaces the three previous notifications issued by MHA under the CZ Act on April 11, 2005, January 5, 2007, and January 5, 2009. The special permission requirements for OCI cardholders to engage in missionary, Tabligh, mountaineering, or journalistic activities, which were only part of the guidelines issued by MHA on November 15, 2019, were not specified in the previous notifications that set out the rights of OCI cardholders. As a result, the OCI Notification 2021 codifies the MHA standards and classifies OCI cardholders as foreign nationals. It's possible that the OCI Notification 2021 is more of a rehash of prior announcements on the subject, albeit with tighter limits.