NEW DELHI: If President Kalam is the ‘first citizen of India’, there will soon be a proud claimant to the title of the ‘first overseas citizen of India’.Actually, there will be two claimants to that honour. For, at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Hyderabad on January 7, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is due to confer ‘dual citizenship’ on two overseas Indians — one living abroad and the other who has been staying in India on a long-term visa.

The identity of the lucky two who will be getting the first Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) certificates has not been announced yet.

They will be selected from the shortlist of those who have applied for OCI and also confirmed that they would be present at the function in Hyderabad.

Pursuant to the amendments last year to the Citizenship Act 1955, the government began accepting applications for OCIs abroad and within the country from December 2.It has received 5,062 applications. Interestingly, the city where the most number of OCI applications were received is not in the West.

It is from Down Under in Sydney, from where 911 applications were processed. London, with a much larger presence of Indian diaspora, came next with 721 applications. Toronto stood third with 474 OCI applications.

Within the US, the highest number of 370 applications were received from Chicago. However, the idea is yet to sink in way with descendants of indentured labour — girmitiyas — settled in places like Fiji, South Africa, Guyana and Surinam.

Any person of Indian origin, except those who had taken up citizenship of either Pakistan or Bangladesh, can apply for OCI.

The scheme, however, is silent on the prospects of applicants from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, that India considers part of its territory.

But a senior home ministry official told TOI that adequate security checks would be made to ensure that “trouble makers” are kept out.

The scheme could attract applications from Mirpuris of PoK, based in UK, US and other places, who have been constantly engaged in anti-India campaign.

Though it is loosely referred to as dual citizenship, a person with an OCI certificate does not legally have the same status as an Indian citizen.

This is because the Constitution does not allow anybody to hold Indian citizenship and citizenship of a foreign country simultaneously. Article 9 of the Constitution says: “No person shall be a citizen of India … or be deemed to be a citizen of India … if he has voluntarily acquired the citizenship of any foreign state.”

So, overseas citizens will not be entitled to equality of opportunity in matters of public employment and will not have any political rights.

They can neither contest elections nor cast votes. Benefits that persons with OCI get are still substantial: Multi-purpose, multiple entry, lifelong visa for visiting India.

Every overseas citizen will be issued a registration certificate printed like an Indian passport, though in a different colour to avoid confusion.

The government will also paste an OCI visa sticker on the person’s foreign passport. Unlike foreign citizens, persons with OCI are exempt from reporting to Foreigners Regional Registration Officers (FRROs) for any length of stay in India.

Parity with the Indian citizens who are registered under the income tax law as NRIs.

|The only respect in which they are worse off than NRIs is that overseas citizens cannot buy agricultural and plantation properties.


By Anupama

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