Process to convert PIO to OCI

As per the Citizenship Amendment bill of 2015, all PIO card holders are deemed to be OCI card holders with effect from January 9, 2016.

Introduction

As per the Citizenship Amendment bill of 2015, all PIO card holders are deemed to be OCI card holders with effect from January 9, 2016. However, the same act did not specify that these cards will need to be changed. This led to serious implementation issues with the PIO-OCI merger resulting in quite some confusion within the embassies in India as well as various immigration portals located outside India. Further, the PIO cards will not even be compatible with the card reading machines to be installed at Indian airports, as per the Act. It is due to this reason that the Indian government announced the decision to convert PIO cards to OCI before December 31, 2016.

Conversion to OCI

In order to convert to OCI, one needs to go through the Indian embassy in the country of their residence or within India at the local FRRO. The PIO Card scheme had been withdrawn vide the Gazette Notification No.25024/9/2014F.I dated 09.01.2015.  Thus applicants are now only permitted to apply for an OCI card due to the PIO card scheme not being in existence anymore.

A separate registration channel has been made for grant of OCI to PIO cardholders. PIO only needs copy of the Passport and PIO card to get OCI, though the process mostly remains same as of new registration.

Generally, an applicant needs to provide proof of following for OCI registration: (please check with your local consulate for a specific list):
  • Present citizenship.
  • Former Indian citizenship for yourself or for a relative, if necessary.
  • Renunciation of Indian citizenship if such a clause is applicable.
  • Relationship to an Indian citizen.
The fee to convert the PIO card into OCI varies from nationality to nationality. A separate online application form for submission of application for registration as OCI cardholder in lieu of PIO card is available at the site- www.ociservices.gov.in

Deadline to convert PIO into OCI: Earlier, the Government of India had set March 31, 2020 as the deadline but recently they extended the date further to September 30, 2020 for PIO cardholders to acquire the OCI card, according to the latest press release by the Consulate General of India, worldwide. This new timeline is subject to a condition for the handwritten PIO cardholders i.e. if the ICAO doesn’t issues any before September 30, the validity of handwritten PIO cards will expire and therefore, making it compulsory for the handwritten PIO cardholders to collect appropriate visa from Indian Missions.

Processing Time:

Official time for processing the application is 45 days from the date of Acknowledgement but the application could take longer if the documents submitted are not in proper order. In case of any deficiency in the application, the uploaded documents or the photograph, the High Commission may return the application to the applicant. The applicant is then required to re-submit the application after completing and uploading the required documents. No urgent service is available for OCI application.
 
Photo Specifications:
 
  • The height and width of the Applicant Photo must be equal in the square shape.
  • The photo should have a light coloured background but not white in colour.
  • The photo should have a front view of the person’s head and shoulders, showing the full face in the middle of the photograph.
  • The Photograph should not be stapled or signed.
  • The minimum dimensions are 200 pixels (width) x 200 pixels (height).
  • The maximum dimensions are 1500 pixels (width) x 1500 pixels (height).
 
Signature Specifications:
 
  • The height and width of the Signature Photo must have aspect ratio 1:3.
  • The minimum dimensions are 200 pixels (width) x 67 pixels (height).
  • The maximum dimensions are 1500 pixels (width) x 500 pixels (height)
 
What was a PIO and why was it used?

A PIO or a “Person of Indian Origin” was primarily a card which allowed for visa-free travel from India and back to it. All individuals of Indian origin who are citizens of another nation, other than the ones specified by the Indian Government were eligible to apply for a PIO card regardless of their ethnicity. The only important aspect to be noted was that such individuals should not have been or in or been citizens of any of the nations which are listed under the prohibited nations list by the Government of India. The following were the pre-requisites for acquiring a PIO card:
  1. The individual should have been an Indian citizen or should have held an Indian passport at some point.
  2. The individual himself or at least either of his or her parents or grandparents or great-grandparents should have been born in India and been a permanent resident of India
  3. The individual could be married to an Indian citizen or an existing PIO covered under the above two points.
The following group of people have been strictly prohibited from being a PIO card holder:
  1. Any person who was ever a citizen of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Iran, China or Nepal.
  2. Any individual whose parents or grandparents were citizens of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Iran, China or Nepal.
 
Benefits of possessing a PIO card
 
  1. A PIO card served as a multipurpose, multi-entry visa for individuals wishing to visit India. The PIO in itself was treated as a visa.
  2. With a PIO card, no separate Student, Employment or Business visa was ever required for any admissions into colleges and institutions or for acquiring employment etc, within India.
  3. There existed, special counters for speedy immigration clearance at designated immigration check posts.
  4. For any person with a PIO card, there existed an exemption from registration with any local police authorities for a continuous stay for up to 180 days in India.
  5. Further, there was an exemption from registration with local police authorities for miners up till 16 years of age as well.
  6. There was parity with Non-resident Indians (NRIs) within economic, financial and educational fields except in the sector for the acquisition of agricultural land or plantations.
  7. A PIO Card could be used as an identity proof for applying for a PAN card, a driving license and for opening of a bank account in India, if the PIO card holder resides in India only.
 
What is an OCI status?

An Overseas Citizen of India is a lifetime visa status and is the closest possible status to dual citizenship offered at present by India. Only the following individuals can be considered as an OCI in India:
  1. An individual who used to be a citizen of India.
  2. An individual with at least one parent, grandparent or great-grandparent who is or was a citizen of India.
  3. Any individual who is married to an Indian citizen or an existing OCI for at least two continuous years.
The following groups of people cannot have an OCI status:
  1. Any person who was ever a citizen of Pakistan or Bangladesh.
  2. Any individual whose parents or grandparents were citizens of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, or Sri Lanka
  3. Any person who served in a foreign military or worked in a foreign defence department.
 
Benefits of having an OCI status
 
  • This status ensures a lifetime of multiple entry visas to India.
  • One can eventually become a citizen of India if they remain an OCI for 5 years and live in India for at least 1 year. As of now even certain short breaks are allowed.
  • One can use special counters during immigration with this status.
  • Such an individual does not require a student or employment visa to study or get a job in India.
  • Like an NRI, such an individual can also open a special bank account in India.
  • Such a person is allowed to make investments in India, buy non-farm property and exercise property ownership rights as well.
  • Such a person can use their OCI card to apply for a driver’s license, open a bank account and get a PAN card.
  • Such a person gets the same economic, financial and education benefits as NRIs do.
  • Such a person pays the Indian resident fee when visiting a national park, monument, museums or wildlife sanctuary.
Differences between PIO and OCI

The main difference between the two lies within the eligibility criteria. While the PIO scheme covered nearly four generations and the foreign spouse of an Indian national or a PIO/OCI card holder, for the OCI card it is mandatory to be eligible in their own terms i.e. a foreign national cannot be eligible for the OCI card even if he or she is married to a valid OCI card holder. However, their children will still be eligible.