OCI cardholders to get some NRI privileges

By Aroonim Bhuyan, IANS

New Delhi : Indian origin people abroad holding Overseas Citizenship ofIndia (OCI) cars are set to be treated on par with NRIs on issues such as adoption of children from India.
According to government sources, despite the ministry of home affairs raising objections to the move to grant OCI cardholders parity with NRIs, the proposal is likely to go through once it reaches the cabinet for approval.

Support TwoCircles

“Most of the ministries to which a draft cabinet note on the proposal was circulated have approved it,” a top official told IANS.

According to the eligibility criteria, any foreign national eligible to become a citizen of India on Jan 26, 1950 or who was a citizen of India on or at anytime after the date, or belonged to a territory that became part of India after Aug 15, 1947, and his/her children and grandchildren can apply for an OCI card.

But the card will be issued only if the country of which the applicant is a citizen allows dual citizenship in some form or other under local laws.

According to the new proposal, OCI cardholders will be treated on par with NRIs in terms of adoption of children in India, domestic airfares, entry fees to national parks, monuments and museums and hotel tariffs.

Also, like NRIs, OCI cardholders can go in for up to 100 percent investment under automatic route – without prior approval of the government or the Reserve Bank of India – in the domestic airlines sector. They will also have the right to practice in India in professions like medicine, dentistry, architecture, chartered accountancy and engineering.

The ministry of overseas Indian affairs (MOIA) had first sent the proposal to the committee of secretaries. Following the committee’s approval, the draft cabinet note was circulated among 77 ministries and most of them have sent in their responses.

According to sources, most ministries, including external affairs, finance, IT and telecommunication, tourism, environment and forest, culture and the department of legal affairs, have approved the proposal.

However, the home ministry is reportedly having a rethink on giving equal rights to OCI cardholders as they are foreign nationals and might pose a security threat in strategic areas. The ministry has sought government control with the right to review and refuse any such right at any stage.

It also learnt that certain ministries like health and family welfare as also commerce have suggested that a precondition be set that the right to practice in India in different professions only be given to those OCI cardholders who are citizens of countries which allow reciprocity of the facility with India.

But the sources said the objections were unlikely to stop the proposal from getting approved by the cabinet as it has already been cleared by the committee of secretaries and provided proper checks and balances.

At the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) 2007, the annual conclave of the Indian diaspora held in New Delhi in January this year, Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi had announced parity to OCI cardholders with NRIs in several areas like domestic airfares, inter-country adoption of children and entry fees to national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had announced the launch of OCI card scheme at PBD 2005 held in Mumbai and the first card was issued at PBD 2006 in Hyderabad.

Benefits enjoyed by an OCI cardholder include multiple entry, multi-purpose lifelong visas to visit India and exemption from reporting to police for any length of stay in India.

However, an OCI cardholder does not have voting rights, cannot contest in elections for Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, state legislative assemblies or councils and cannot hold any constitutional posts such as president, vice president, judge of Supreme Court or high court.

Till now the Indian government has issued around 145,000 OCI cards.