Couple of years back, the UPA government had decided to merge the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) and the Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) cards, but that never became reality. The attempt was to simplify things and make way for a visa-free entry for people of Indian origin into India.

The current government decided to implement this idea brought up by the UPA government, and moved forward with the merging OCI and PIO cards. The announcement was made by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi while addressing the Indian community during his visit to the US.

The Indian population in the US is the largest anywhere in the world and the influence of this diaspora has grown tremendously over years. Indian American population is about 1% of the US population which is about 2.81 million people. This shows that Indian Americans significantly contributed to Modi's electoral success as well as his popularity in US. Modi most definitely appreciates this contribution, and wants to involve them in India's businesses, economy, culture, education and other aspects.

The PIO Card scheme was launched in 1999. It was issued to Indians who have been staying abroad for at least two generations. PIO card holders have to apply for separate visas. People of Indian origin may apply for a PIO card if they have held an Indian passport at any time or are married to Indian citizen or a person of Indian origin. A person is considered to be of Indian origin if he/she is a citizen of any country, other than Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Afghanistan, China or Nepal.

The OCI card was launched in 2005. It is given to those who are more recent migrants and have taken citizenship in other countries. The OCI cards are practically visas that enable its holders to enter India for an indefinite period. Both cards are made for providing long-term residency rights to people of Indian origin and to help them participate in economic and educational activities in India. The merger of these two cards can make PIO card holders also eligible for the benefits of holders OCI cards. This will provide visa-free travel to India, rights of residency and participation in business and educational activities in the country.

The card holders can enter India with a lifelong visa and will be exempted from registration with local police authority for any length of stay in the country. All facilities in respect to investing in India are permissible except acquiring agricultural land. All these steps are being taken to simplify visa-free entry for people of Indian origin into India. Some problems that will emerge as the merger occurs will hopefully be ironed out in due course.

Moreover, in an attempt to boost tourism and business, visa-on-arrival scheme is also being implemented for tourists from 180 countries.

If you have a similar situation and need a help of an attorney, you can review Anu Peshawaria's website for more information (www.anuattorney.com) and contact her at anu@anuattorney.com or by phone at her office in Fremont, CA, 510-353-0103 or in Seattle, WA, 206-774-0907.

Anu Peshawaria - Attorney- at-law, Former Legal advisor, Govt of India, Awarded by Secretary of State, California and USCIS, Author, Activist, practicing US immigration, Business and International Family Law as well as Supreme Court of India.

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