Difference Between NRI, PIO, and OCI

Difference Between NRI, PIO, and OCI

India is the second-most populous country globally, and due to technological advancements bonding the world closer, the Indian population is present across the globe. The reasons for migration may be anything from job opportunities to marriage to higher studies to much more.

Given such a large population residing in other countries but still wanting to be rooted in India, the Indian government has designed several provisions to support them.

Here is a brief overview of the different immigration categories India offers:

NRI – Non-Resident Indian

The term NRI is used to denote any Indian who stays abroad. However, the law is a little more complicated than that.

In this article, we shall delve into three terms: NRI (Non-Resident Indian), PIO (Person of Indian Origin), and OCI (Overseas Citizen of India)

Why is it Important?

There are two aspects to it.

The first is taxation.

A resident Indian has to pay tax on three types of income: 

  1. Income earned outside India and received in India (e.g ., contract/freelance onsite work done for American Express in Berlin and received in State Bank of India, Connaught Circus Branch).
  2. Income earned in India and received outside (e.g., rent from a flat in Patiala received at Wells Fargo Bank, Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles Branch).
  3. Income earned outside India and received outside India (e.g., income from the sale of property in Dubai received in Wells Fargo Bank, Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles Branch).

A non-resident Indian has to pay tax only on the first two, meaning when the income is either earned or received in India.

The second issue is often more important. The NRI status influences what rights the person enjoys.

Who is a Non-Resident Indian?

An NRI is a person who is not a resident Indian. 

Who is a resident Indian?

According to the Budget 2020, a person is deemed a resident for the previous financial year (for example, the financial year of 1 April 2019 – 31 March 2020), if the person: 

Has been in India for at least 182 days during the previous Financial Year (in India, a Financial Year is from April 1–March 31). Budget 2020 is applicable from April 1, 2020.


Has been in India for 365 days in the four Financial Years preceding the previous Financial Year AND at least 60 days in the previous Financial Year.

Anyone not satisfying the above is a Non-Resident Indian 


  • If a citizen of India leaves India for employment abroad, only the first condition will be applicable.
  • If an Indian citizen or an OCI card holder whose income in India is more than 15 lakhs (a little more than $20,000), visits India, they could still be considered an Indian resident if their stay in India is more than 120 days (instead of the previous alliance of staying for a maximum of 182 days in India without being deemed an Indian resident for tax purpose). The change has been carried out under the Finance Act, 2020.

PIO – Person of Indian Origin

This status is assigned to foreign citizens except for nationals of Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

An individual falls under the PIO category when:

  • They have held an Indian passport at any point in time.
  • They, or either of their parents/grandparents/great-grandparents, were born in India or were permanent residents of India, as defined in the Government of India Act 1935.
  • They are the spouse of an Indian citizen or of a PIO.

PIO Rights

PIOs can apply for an OCI card, and using that:

  • They do not need a visa to visit India.
  • They do not require a student or employment visa to find employment or pursue academic opportunities.
  • They are exempt from registering at the Foreigner Regional Registration Office (FRRO) during their stay in India, unlike other foreign citizens visiting the country.
  • At all Indian international airports, they are provided with special immigration counters.

PIOs enjoy parity with NRIs in terms of economic, educational, and financial rights. Neither NRIs nor PIOs are eligible to purchase agricultural land; however, both can inherit it.

OCI – Overseas Citizen of India

OCI is actually a card that the government of India gives to certain foreigners who can prove eligibility. This card denotes an immigration status permitting a qualifying foreigner to live and work in India for an indefinite period of time. PIOs of certain categories who migrated from India and became citizens of a foreign country (besides Pakistan and Bangladesh) are eligible to be issued an OCI, as long as their current country of citizenship allows dual citizenship.

In all practical sense, a person can be an OCI cardholder and hence be deemed an overseas citizen of India in laymen’s language.

An OCI cardholder is not actually a citizen of India but has permission to reside and work in the country, except for citizens of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Also, the individual’s parents must not be citizens of either of the two countries. Citizens of a foreign country who have served in any military division are also ineligible to apply for an OCI card.

The Indian constitution does not allow for dual citizenship, so the OCI card is seen as a makeshift solution to this.

Like NRIs, OCI cardholders can open special bank accounts such as Non-Resident Ordinary (NRO), Non-Resident External (NRE), and Foreign Currency Non-Resident (FCNR) accounts and invest in India (they can’t buy agricultural or farmland though). They can apply for a driver’s license and PAN card, as well.

Once issued, an OCI card does not expire and is valid for life. However, if the OCI cardholder was issued the initial card when they were 20 years of age or younger, they are required to renew their OCI card once if they receive a new passport after the age of 20. Those who received their initial OCI card at age 21 or older no longer have to renew their OCI cards when issued a new passport, as per the Indian Government in June, 2021.

Differences between NRIs, PIOs, and OCI cardholders

Note that the three terms are not from the same category. NRI is a residential status for the purpose of income tax calculations. PIO is an individual. OCI is a card denoting an immigration status.

An OCI cardholder, is in fact, a PIO.

So, a more refined question is: What are the key differences between NRIs and PIOs?

NRIs enjoy certain benefits in parity with resident Indians which PIOs do not.

  • NRIs enjoy voting rights in India. PIOs cannot vote in India.
  • NRIs can stand for public office, while PIOs cannot.
  • NRIs can conduct research work without any prior permission. However, PIOs must get prior permission from the local FRRO.
  • PIOs also need to apply for permission from the local FRRO to undertake mountaineering, missionary activities, or to visit restricted areas in India. NRIs do not need any such permission.

Parities between PIOs and NRIs:

  • In matters of inter-country adoption (of Indian-born children), both NRIs and PIOs have to follow the same procedure and are treated equally.
  • Children of both NRIs and PIOs can seek admission to Indian educational institutions under the general quota for NRIs, including medical schools, engineering schools, MBA programs, law schools, and more.
  • PIOs can take advantage of the various housing schemes made available by state and central government agencies.

NRIs have more rights than both PIOs and OCI cardholders in terms of political rights and freedom to travel within the Republic of India.

Any individual having an OCI card for more than five years becomes eligible to apply for Indian citizenship. However, this would require you to surrender any other citizenship you hold.

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