The more you look into the immigration system within India the more you see that the Indian authorities still class Indians living and working overseas, whether second, third or even fourth generation families, as been part of the Indian population. We have the NRI card, the POI card and now we have the OCI card (overseas citizen of India). There is no doubt that the authorities are more than happy to give people the freedom to live overseas while ultimately maintaining their strong cultural and domestic Indian links.
There are many reasons why the government is more than happy to accommodate those living overseas and the truth is that the situation as it stands at the moment is very beneficial to both India as a whole and the individuals involved.
Background to the OCI card
The overseas citizen of India card effectively bestows many of the rights available for Indian citizens on those who have connections with India, under terms set by the authorities, and may frequently visit the country. The authorities are trying to make it as easy as possible for those with strong cultural and family ties to India to come back to the country under their own steam and with minimal disruption. There are a number of benefits of holding the OCI card and we will cover them below.
Before we look at the benefits of the overseas citizen of India card it is worth remembering that despite the implication that the holder is a “citizen of India” this does not offer dual nationality. Under Indian regulations those who hold Indian citizenship are not able to maintain the citizenship rights of another country at the same time. Therefore while the term overseas citizen of India may be misleading for some people, we must make clear that you do not automatically obtain full citizenship and full citizens rights when in India.
The specific benefits of an OCI card include: –
The right to visit the country with minimal disruption at any point
Free movement within India although further permission will need to be sought for prohibited areas
Access to the education system in India
Access to government services
In simple terms and OCI card will give you access to standard services and standards facilities which are available to Indian citizens although there are some specific exemptions in relation to overseas citizens of India which include: –
You will not receive an Indian passport
You will not have any voting rights in the country
You will not be able to hold local authority office
You will not be able to hold a position in the Indian government
You will not be able to acquire agricultural/plantation properties unless inherited
Some people are slightly curious as to why the Indian authorities appear on the one hand to offer a form of “dual citizenship” but on the other hand appear to withdraw a number of basic Indian citizenship benefits. The truth is that while the authorities are looking to maintain a “family connection” with Indians working and living overseas there needs to be more benefits available for Indian citizens themselves.
It is also worth noting that while the overseas citizen of India card does not act as an entry point to full citizenship, those who have lived in India for some time will be able to apply for citizenship under the normal regulations.
What does this mean for India?
There is no doubt that many of the estimated 30 million Indians now living and working overseas still have a very strong cultural pull towards their “domestic homeland”. When you take into account that India has the second highest migration statistics in the world, only beaten by China, we can likely expect further migration from India in the future.
While the figure of 30 million people is obviously a significant population in overseas markets it is worth noting that a high number of these people will regularly visit India and indeed a significant number will repatriate at sometime. The Indian authorities have in some way effectively allowed Indians living overseas to plan ahead for the future and apply for the various non-resident Indian, person of Indian origin and the overseas citizen of India cards to lay the groundwork for the future.
If you look specifically at the worldwide economy and the various business arenas around the world you will see a strong presence of Indian workers and indeed a large number have managed to fight their way up to some of the highest positions in the worldwide business arena. So not only does the government offer practical help and assistance for those living overseas but the very fact they are able to visit and in many cases repatriate to the country allows India to benefit going forward.
The Indian economy
Over the years we have seen a significant increase in activity with regards to the Indian economy and a massive increase in the number of overseas companies and investors looking towards the region. It is this ability to not only retrain the domestic workforce which has pushed the economy ahead but also the ability to allow members of the population to move overseas to gain experience and in many cases wealth and then return “home”.
So the Indian economy benefits on two fronts because overseas investment will require members of the domestic workforce to be trained up to the highest level. We also have the large number of Indian citizens moving overseas to gain wealth and experience in various areas of commerce who are unable to return to their homeland and bring with them valuable skills, experience and in some cases significant investment wealth. This is one of the reasons why a number of European companies that had previously relocated their call centres to India, along with many administration activities, are now repatriating these services.
Travel for overseas citizens of India
While above we have listed the various positives and negatives of an OCI card the practical situation is that those who receive an OCI card will also receive a “U” visa sticker which will be valid for their lifetime. You will need to show your passport and your “U” visa when entering the country and if your passport needs to be replaced then you will need to retain the old copy with the “U” visa. It is possible to have your visa transferred to your new passport although you would need to go through the Indian authorities.
When you take into account the often difficult nature of internal travel within Europe and America there is no doubt that the Indian authorities have simplified this particular issue beyond recognition for many people. This is perhaps one of the major reasons why the Indian government has been able to retain the cumulative strength, cumulative wealth and cumulative skills of the Indian workforce going forward.
Cancellation of an OCI card
As you would expect from any immigration issue, the Indian authorities have already put in place specific regulations to allow them to cancel an OCI card at any point. If the card was obtained by fraudulent means, concealment of important facts or indeed the holder has shown a disregard for the constitution of India than the authorities can literally flick a switch and the OCI card will be cancelled.
However, for those who do have a brush with the authorities and risk losing their OCI card it is also worth remembering that the individual concerned will also be blacklisted with regards to future visits to the country. Not only does an OCI card allow any Indian individual who qualifies to visit the country at the drop of a heart but it also obliges them to respect the Indian constitution and the various rules and regulations surrounding use of an OCI card.
As we touched on above, India has one of the highest net migration figures in the world second only to China. Therefore, while historically the Indian government has been fairly slow and fairly lax with regards to reinvestment of income for the benefit of the overall Indian population, this has changed over recent times. Many believe that the initial movement with regards to the various immigration cards came about when the economy began to pick up and overseas companies began to show a significant interest in the region.
Initially a number of companies were attracted to India purely and simply because of the potential exposure to the massive Indian population while others were attracted to what they thought was a “cheap workforce”. However, over the years we have seen constant reinvestment of funds by the Indian authorities to improve the education system and allow Indian citizens to move overseas to gain experience in many fields. As a consequence, as the skills began to appear in the Indian workforce so there was a requirement for further income and a total rebasing of business costs.
While a number of companies may well have repatriated some of their services to their homeland they have left behind a very interesting marker. Something which was in many ways a by-product has allowed the Indian workforce to become a highly skilled and much sought after array of employees who are unable to ply their trade overseas as well as in domestic Indian markets. So while many companies that invested into India certainly made a significant return in the short term there is no doubt that the long-term impact will be felt for many years to come by India as a whole – and the worldwide population wherever they may live.
Applying for an OCI card
One other issue which is becoming more and more evident is the fact that the application system with regards to an OCI card is very simple and very straightforward. There is no never-ending list of conditions for those applying for overseas citizenship of India and immediately every applicant knows where they stand and indeed it will become evident very quickly whether they qualify for OCI. The application process is very straightforward and all the documents required are listed.
Indian services overseas
We have previously covered in specific detail the various banking and information services available to Indian citizens living in foreign lands. When you consider the figures involved, i.e. the number of net migrants out of India, it will come as no surprise to learn that the various banking institutions around the globe have been very quick to tag onto this particular phenomenon. You are now able to arrange your banking facilities along the lines of domestic Indian bank accounts and at this point in time a number of overseas Indian workers are more than happy to take advantage of the interest rate differential between India and the rest of the world.
It is also worth noting that there are a large number of Indian embassies around the world and even if direct applications for various migrant cards are not available they will be able to point you in the right direction and assist you with your application.
By hook or by crook there is no doubt that the Indian authorities are more than happy to maintain contact and encourage visits from Indian workers living overseas. We have the non-resident Indian card, the person of Indian origin card and now we have the overseas citizen of India card. There are literally tens of millions of Indians living overseas and these government services are proving to be very attractive and very beneficial for all parties.
The Indian economy has benefited not only from international and internal investment within the country but there have been a number of Indian workers returning from overseas with new skills and new experiences. What was some time ago a relatively low average pay, compared to the rest of the world, has now increased dramatically over the last few years and indeed a number of European and American companies have repatriated some of the administration services.
Every time you look at the actions of the Indian government with regards to Indians living overseas there is no doubt that the building blocks are there for a very strong Indian economy which many believe will one day become an economic powerhouse of the world.