Dual Citizenship Striptease

Even green card holders in the US enjoy more rights and privileges than holders of Overseas Indian Citizen cards do in India.

Indian babus are to a good idea what a pin prick is to a bubble.


A proposal to introduce parity between Non Resident Indians (NRIs) – Indian citizens living overseas – and overseas citizens of India (OCIs) – typically Indian origin foreign citizens – has become mired in the endless and mindless bureaucratic maze of various ministries invited to comment on it.

The proposal, drafted by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, seeks to extend to OCIs the same benefits as NRIs in such areas as investment, employment and property rights. Mind you, it seeks parity not with Indian residents, but NRIs. However, several ministries are resisting the proposal.

The same tired arguments advanced two years ago to kill dual citizenship are again being trotted out to gut the new bill. Overseas Indians will recall that after tantalizing them for years with a much-ballyhooed offer of dual citizenship, the Indian government reneged on the promise, instead adopting a bogus and misleading “overseas Indian citizenship” card, which explicitly ruled out dual citizenship. Security considerations were cited at the time against extending dual nationality to overseas Indians, notwithstanding the fact that roughly half the countries in the world permit it, including some that are most sensitive to security matters, such as the United States.

The new mutation was the OCI card, a form of glorified People of Indian Origin (PIO) card introduced earlier, fashioned after the U.S. green card. The OCI card does not entitle its holder to a passport, but like the alien card its holder does not need to secure a visa for travel to India or to register in India during extended stays, which other foreign nationals are required to do.

The promise of dual citizenship for all overseas Indians was first pared down to just 16 countries, principally Western, predicated partly on the plausible logic that dual nationality was viable only in countries that themselves permitted it. After the babus batted that around for two years, dual citizenship was dropped entirely and the OCI card introduced with a publicity campaign that it was dual citizenship in all but name.

However, as details, and later the forms and process, trickled out, it became clear that the OCI card was a sad consolation prize for the failed promise. Now the babus are chipping away at whatever remains of the OCI card. The home ministry wants to preserve a distinction between NRIs and OCIs in the strategic financial sector; the Department of Economic Affairs wants to distinguish between the two in the acquisition and transfer of property in India, while the Revenue Department is objecting that income tax and wealth tax benefits available to NRIs should not be extended to OCIs. The ministry of health and human welfare, likewise, wants restrictions on foreign educated physicians practicing in India.

The bottom line of all this hand wringing is that the only tangible benefit of the OCI card is that it serves as a lifelong travel visa. Even green card holders in the United States enjoy more rights and privileges than holders of OCI cards. Certainly in the areas of investment, employment and property rights, alien residents in the United States have many of the same privileges as U.S. citizens. One would think that, at minimum, for people the Indian government is proposing dual nationality could be afforded at least the same privileges Indian citizens with a U.S. green card are entitled to in the United States.

Instead, the OCI card is emasculated every time another layer masking it is peeled away.

Any surprise that under 1 percent of the eligible 24 million overseas Indians have bothered to even apply for it?    

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *