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Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) Guidelines – UPSC

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Ministry of Home Affairs has issued series of guidelines for Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cardholders in the backdrop of Judgment of Karnataka High Court. Section 7A, 7B, 7C & 7D of the Citizenship Act, 1955 provides for the Overseas Citizens of India.

Background to the Notification

  • In March 2019, the MHA clarified to the Karnataka High Court that students with OCI cards had “parity with Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) and can lay claim only on the NRI quota seats based on the all-India tests”.
  • However on December 15, 2020, the High Court of Karnataka directed that students under the OCI category are to be considered as “citizens of India” for admission to professional courses and asked the State government to admit them to undergraduate professional courses, including engineering, medical, and dental, even under the government and institutional quotas, and not to restrict their admission only under the NRI quota.
  • The March 4 notification by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said that OCI card holders will have parity with NRIs in the matter of “appearing for the all India entrance tests such as National Eligibility cum Entrance Test, Joint Entrance Examination (Mains), Joint Entrance Examination (Advanced) or such other tests to make them eligible for admission only against any Non-Resident Indian seat or any supernumerary seat.
  • However, MHA notification also provided that the OCI cardholder shall not be eligible for admission against any seat reserved exclusively for Indian citizens.
  • Thus, OCI students were treated at par with NRI students, but not with students who exclusively are “citizen of India”.

Who are Overseas Citizens of India cardholders?

Constitutional Provisions

  • The Constitution deals with citizenship from Articles 5 to 11 under Part II. However, it contains neither any permanent nor any elaborate provisions in this regard.
  • It only identifies the persons who became citizens of Indiaon 26th January 1950 (i.e. when the Constitution commenced).
  • It empowers the Parliament to enact a law to provide for matters relating to citizenship. Accordingly, the Parliament has enacted the Citizenship Act, 1955, which has been recently amended in 2015.

The OCI scheme was introduced by The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2005 in response to demands for dual citizenship by the Indian diaspora. It provided to Overseas citizens many of the rights available to resident citizens.

Section 7A provides for Registration of Overseas Citizens of India. Government of India may register any person as Overseas Citizen of India (OCI), if –

  • Any person who is citizen of another country, but was a citizen of India at the time of, or at any time after, the commencement of the Constitution; or
  • Any person who is citizen of another country, but was eligible to become a citizen of India at the time of the commencement of the Constitution.
  • Any person who is citizen of another country, but belonged to a territory that became part of India after the 15th day of August, 1947.
  • Any person who is a child or a grand-child of such a citizen.
  • a person, who is a minor child of a person mentioned above.

However, if the applicant had ever been a citizen of Pakistan or Bangladeshhe/she will not be eligible to be registered as OCI.

The category was introduced by the government in 2005. The Government of India via Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2015 merged the Person of Indian Origin (PIO) category with OCI category in 2015.

Benefits for OCIs

  • OCIs are entitled to a multipurpose, multiple entry, lifelong visa allowing them to visit India at any time, for any length of time and for any purpose.
  • At all Indian international airports, OCI cardholders are provided with special immigration counters.
  • They are exempted from police reporting for any length of stay in the country.
  • If an individual is registered as an OCI for a period of five years, he/she is eligible to apply for Indian citizenship.
  • OCI cardholders can open special bank accounts in India, buy the non-farm property and exercise ownership rights and can also apply for a Permanent Account Number (PAN) card.
  • They have also been granted all rights in the economic, financial and education fields in parity with NRIs except, the right to acquisition of agricultural or plantation properties.

Which Rights are not enjoyed by OCI?

  • OCIs do not enjoy employment rights in Government of India services nor can they hold any constitutional office in the Government of India.
  • They need prior permission for undertaking mountaineering, missionary activities, research work and to visit restricted areas in India.
  • They cannot run for office of President or Vice-President of India.
  • They cannot be appointed as Judge of High Court or Supreme Court.
  • Cannot be registered as voter under Representation of People Act, 1951
  • Cannot become member of Legislative Assembly or Legislative Council.

Notification of MHA for OCI Card Holders

  • As per the notification of Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cardholders can lay claim to “only NRI (Non Resident Indian) quota seats” in educational institutions based on All-India entrance tests such as National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), Joint Entrance Examination (Mains), Joint Entrance Examination (Advanced) or other such all-India professional tests.
  • The notification also reproduced a part of the guidelines issued by MHA on November 15, 2019 regarding benefits to OCI cardholders, which said that OCIs are not entitled– to undertake any “missionary, mountaineering, journalism and tabligh activities”without prior permission of the Government of India. The notification provides legal teeth to the guidelines.
  • The notification says that the OCI cardholder shall be required to obtain a “special permission or a special permit” from the competent authority or the Foreigners Regional Registration Officer (FRRO) or the Indian Mission “to undertake research, Missionary or Tabligh or Mountaineering or Journalistic activities, undertake internship in any foreign diplomatic missions or foreign Government organisations in India or employment in any foreign diplomatic missions in India and visit any place which falls within the Protected or Restricted or prohibited areas as notified by the Central Government or competent authority”.
  • The fresh notification replaces three previous notifications issued on the subject on April 11, 2005; January 5, 2007; and January 5, 2009, respectively. The previous notifications did not specify the special permission required for “missionary, Tabligh, mountaineering or journalistic activities”.
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