The whole purpose of the new Overseas card visa seems to be to extend citizenship easily and without a long residence requirement:
The Bill proposes the following changes:
- The Bill replaces the words “overseas citizen of India” with the words “overseas Indian cardholder” (OIC). An overseas Indian cardholder is defined as a person registered as an overseas Indian cardholder by the central government under section 7A.
- The Bill enlarges the categories of persons eligible for OIC. It proposes to include (i) a great-grandchild of any person who was a citizen of India; (ii) a minor child of parents, both of whom are, or one of whom is, a citizen of India; and (iii) a spouse of an Indian citizen who has been married for at least two years before making the application for registration.
- The Bill also sought an amendment to bring within the scope of citizenship a person “who is ordinarily a resident” instead of the person who has been residing in India for a specific period
- The registration of the spouse of an Indian citizen will be canceled if (i) the marriage has been dissolved by a competent court; or (ii) during the subsistence of such marriage, the spouse has married any other person.
- If a person renounces his or her overseas Indian card, his or her spouse and minor child will also cease to be an OIC.
- The central government may relax the requirement of being a resident in India for 12 months as one of the qualifications for a certificate of naturalization. This period cannot be extended beyond a period of 30 days.
There is no certainty regarding the time frame within which the Bill will be brought into force. Although the purpose of the amendment seems to be to correct the lacunae in the Act, it has, in a way, demoted the status of an OCI from being an overseas “citizen” to a mere cardholder. Although an OCI has never had full privileges of Indian citizenship, such as the right to vote, when the law was initially passed, OCI status was thought to be a first step toward dual citizenship. Further, by bringing the spouse and the minor child within the ambit of an OIC and by making registration for them compulsory, the whole purpose of easy and fast implementation of the OCI process is defeated.”
The Economic Times reports wide-spread anger among overseas Indians with foreign citizenship about the Government of India’s proposal (The Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2011) to merge two categories of long-term Indian residence visas – the Persons of Indian Origin visa (PIO) and the Overseas Citizens of India (OCI).
Both categories of visa started out with the stated purpose that they would be life-time visas or very long-term visas that would grant benefits similar to citizenship of India to Indians who had become foreign citizens.
Some people even called the OCI a type of “dual citizenship.”
In practice, the two visas have been plagued by perception problems, red-tape, and confusion. For example, although it was billed as a life-time visa, the OCI actually requires holders above the age of 50 or under 20 to reapply when their passports come up for renewal.
Any change of address or occupation also has to be changed on the original document.
Apparently in an effort to smooth things out, the Prime Minister announced in 2011 that it would be merging the two.
In effect, the merger would bring the PIO (the 15 year visa) to parity with the OCI (which doesn’t need annual police registration, among other things). The merger would involve creating a new category of visa – the Overseas Indian Card.
However, that’s upset many OCI and PIO holders who fear that instead of stream-lining what already exists, the GOI is about to make new problems for existing OCI and PIO holders who would be obligated to go through a cumbersome application with expensive fees for a second time.
Despite the complaints, the bill has been approved by the Rajya Sabha and is now being considered by the lower house.
In the article linked, there was also this interesting insight into the politics behind the bill tucked away at the end:
“As the Bill was being discussed in the Upper House, the Opposition sought to embarrass the government by pointing out that no Cabinet minister was present in the House other than Ramachandran, who moved the Bill for consideration and passage.” (my emphasis)
The issue at the heart of the OCI/PIO/OIC complications is the contested nature of the state – is it territorial or not?
Is it a political contrivance or a cultural reality? Who gets to be a citizen and why?
While OCI’s cannot vote, even if the live in India, groups like the Overseas Friends of the BJP want non-resident Indians – citizens of India who don’t live in India – to be able to vote.
The larger question is whether a state is territorial or not.
That is the real source of the confusion in the smaller questions about visas.
Then, there’s also the issue of security.
The new Overseas Card wouldn’t be open to citizens of Pakistan, for instance.
In light of all this, it might be wise for those considering applying for the OCI or PIO to put off doing so until the new bill, currently pending before the Lok Sabha, is either scrapped or declared the law of the land.
The Lok Sabha session that ran from Feb 5 – Feb. 21 was the last one before elections and so far the bill has not passed.
No wonder, since the parliament faced some 39 important bills.
One that did pass was the division of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh (heavily influenced by Western corporate, religious, and political lobbies) into two, recreating the old state of Telegana.
Telengana’s rebirth has everything to do with the conundrums over the nature of the state and the state of the nation out of which the question of overseas citizenship arises.
For instance, just as it happened with the passage of the Citizenship Bill of 2011 in the Rajya Sabha, it happened with the creation of the 29th state in India:
“When Indian lawmakers voted to create a new state in the world’s largest democracy on Tuesday, they did so off camera and behind closed doors.
Just as the lower house of Parliament was about to decide whether to make Telangana a separate state from Andhra Pradesh – a move that has faced violent opposition even among members of Parliament in recent days — the live feed from inside the house went dead.
Lok Sabha Television, the only broadcaster allowed to air proceedings in the lower house, said the blackout during the voice vote was caused by a technical hitch.
The timing of the shutdown though led opponents of the new state to suspect something more sinister.
Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, leader of the southern state’s regional YSR Congress party, which has fought to maintain the status quo in Andhra Pradesh, said that the cut feed was an “example of how democracy can be killed in broad daylight.”
“It is a black day in the history of India,” Mr. Reddy added.
Sushma Swaraj, the leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party in the lower house, who voted in favor of the bill, said in a tweet from her verified account that the blackout was a “tactical glitch.”