An Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) does not need a visa to enter India or live there for extended periods. This is indeed a cause for delight for millions of expatriates and their children abroad.
But before we examine the benefits, let us delve into two terms that are used interchangeably by many—NRI and OCI—and thus cause confusion.
NRI and OCI Differences
An NRI is an Indian citizen who has emigrated abroad for work, study, or personal reasons. Anyone who lives outside India is an NRI according to Section 6 of the Income Tax Act, 1961. There are further classifications of RNOR and NRI, but those are not important at this stage.
It is important to note that an NRI remains an Indian citizen, is eligible to vote, and does not need a visa to enter India. Some NRIs stay abroad for decades but have almost the same rights as resident Indians (other than needing some changes for scrutinizing their financial transactions, such as an NRO account in place of a plain savings account).
“OCI” is a relatively new term. An OCI is actually a card that the government of India gives to certain foreigners who can prove their eligibility for it. So, a person who has this card is deemed an OCI cardholder.
- An OCI cardholder may have at one time been an Indian citizen, e.g., an Indian who migrated to the U.S. at age 24, became a green-card holder at 32, and a U.S. citizen at 45.
- Otherwise, an OCI cardholder has at least one Indian parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent who is (or was) an Indian citizen.
- Lastly, anyone who has been married for at least two years to an OCI cardholder or Indian citizen is also an Overseas Citizen of India.
Just briefly, we must mention that at one time (between 2002 and 2015), the term “PIO card” (Person of Indian Origin Card) was in use. A PIO card holder did not require a visa to visit India or have to register at the Foreigner Regional Registration Office (FRRO) if they intended to stay for less than six months. Upon assuming office, the NDA government under Prime Minister Modi amended the rules in 2014 and the framework of the OCI.
The acronym PIO Card is no longer in use.
Lifelong Visas for OCI Cardholders
- An OCI cardholder has access to a lifelong visa that is valid for 100 years from the recipient’s date of birth. They do not have to register at FRRO at all (unlike PIOs, who had a six-month limit).
- They are free to buy property, as long as it is not agricultural land.
- Using a Portfolio Investment Scheme, they can invest in the Indian stock market and own a driver’s license and a PAN card.
- They can’t hold a government job or become an elected official.
For all practical purposes, they have a permanent residency visa for India.
What is the Effect?
Indian law does not allow dual citizenship. Being granted an OCI card is as near as one can get to being a citizen of India without actually being one.
The principal good that has come out of it is economic.
It is easier for a foreign multinational to deploy an OCI cardholder to India. There is no headache about work visas or FRRO registrations. Since the Indian diaspora abroad is vast and talented, it makes sense to send an OCI cardholder to India. They can enter and leave without any hassle, buy an apartment, and move around everywhere (apart from places requiring Inner Line Permits, like Arunachal Pradesh).
An OCI card also makes it possible for people of Indian lineage to invest in India. There is a huge number of Indian scientists and engineers abroad who can easily participate in Indian startups. Until the OCI rule came into effect, this was an untapped resource.
Thus, if you are of Indian descent and living abroad as an OCI cardholder, you have unrestricted access to India and the enormous market she offers.
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