With the government announcing the withdrawal of all Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) cards with effect from 9th January 2015, the Indian diaspora abroad are optimistic of maximum possible benefits. According to the new notification, all existing PIO cardholders will be deemed to be Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cardholders. The PIO and OCI cards have been clubbed together, so now there is only one OCI card with enhanced benefits. This was announced by the Indian prime minister on his visit to the US and Australia. Accordingly, an Ordinance was promulgated on 6th January 2015 whereby the eligibility conditions and additional benefits of PIO Card have been incorporated in the OCI Card by amending the Citizenship Act of 1955.
This decision was taken after receiving many complaints from PIOs about visits to local police stations and stringent visa norms that restricted them from buying a property in India when compared to OCI cardholders. This move will not only encourage active participation of the Indian diaspora in India but will also sort out the issues involved in implementing two different cards that differ only in a few ways.
The Indian Government started the scheme for issuing a Person of Indian Origin Card as a step toward granting dual citizenship to overseas Indians so that they could reconnect with their roots. It is a great tool to increase the participation of non-resident Indians in the development of the country in easier and flexible ways.
A person of Indian origin, also called PIO is one who is of Indian descent. Those whose ancestors were born in countries with Indian descent can also be considered as PIOs. For a non-native person to be regarded as a PIO, he must obtain a PIO card launched by the Government of India in 1999. Only then can he enjoy all the benefits given to NRIs by the Indian Government.
Even with all the benefits that PIO cardholders enjoy, there are some limitations too. They cannot exert their political rights or voting in India. PIO cardholders require prior permission from Government of India for access to restricted areas in India or for activities like missionary trips or mountaineering trips.
The PIO card scheme was introduced in 1999 while the OCI cards were introduced much later in 2005. The objective of these cards was to provide long-term residency rights to people of Indian origin and also to ensure their participation in the economic and educational activities in India.
Typically an OCI cardholder is entitled to a life long visa-free travel to India whereas for the PIO, visa-free entry to India was limited to a period of 15 years. Also, PIO cardholders were expected to register with the local police if their stay in India exceeds a period of 180 days whereas an OCI can stay for any number of days in India and is exempted from registration. If a person is registered as an OCI for five years and a resident in India in one of those five years, he or she can apply for Indian citizenship. They also have access to special counters for speedy immigration clearance. They need not apply for a student visa or employment visa for college admissions or jobs in India. Cardholders are at par with NRIs in all economic, financial and educational matters with the only exception being the acquisition of agricultural land. OCI cards also provide employment visa benefits and are hence very popular with the Indian diaspora. While OCI cardholders have a specific right to become Indian citizens, PIO cardholders had no such option; merging the two is a good idea since PIO cardholders can now be on par with OCI cardholders.
Now PIO cardholders can also enjoy privileges such as a life-long visa for India. They will also be exempt from registration with local police in India even if their stay exceeds 180 days on a single visit to India. They will also be entitled to the rights of residency the same way as OCI cardholders.
With the Indian government deciding to merge the two schemes under a single umbrella, active participation of the Indian diaspora is expected. Also, problems that are caused by the implementation of two different card schemes will be sorted out.