India’s Home Ministry severely curtailed the scope of activity for Overseas Citizens of India cardholders in a bulletin issued March 4, and reclassified them as “foreign nationals.”
“The OCI Cardholder (including a PIO cardholder) is a foreign national holding passport of a foreign country and is not a citizen of India,” stated the Ministry in its bulletin. Up to this point, OCI cardholders were treated in parity with Indian citizens.
“This is really a setback for OCI cardholders and the Indian diaspora,” George Abraham, vice chair of the Indian Overseas Congress, told India-West. “We always felt as though we were moving towards dual citizenship, but now the government is saying it will treat us like foreigners.”
A spokesman for the Consul General of India in San Francisco explained to India-West that the bulletin was a clarification of existing rules established in 2005, 2007, and 2009.
The rules — which can be viewed in their entirety here — https://bit.ly/3cKjVyu — state that OCI cardholders must obtain special permission from the Indian government for any missionary work; “Tabligh,” defined as promoting a Muslim agenda; journalistic and mountaineering activities.
They must also obtain permission to travel to areas the Indian government has designated “restricted.” Such areas include: all of Arunachal Pradesh; parts of Himachal Pradesh; portions of Jammu & Kashmir; all of Manipur, Mizoram, Sikkim and Nagaland; portions of Rajasthan and Uttarakhand.
The new clarifications also put new restrictions on inter-country adoptions of children by OCI cardholders, and set down stricter guidelines for the diaspora who wish to obtain higher education in India.
OCI cardholders who reside in India must check in with the Foreigners Regional Registration Officer or the Foreigners Registration Officer by email whenever there is a change in their residential address or in their occupation, according to the bulletin.
The Indian government threw OCI cardholders a sop in the new bulletin, stating that entry fees for visiting national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, national monuments, historical sites and museums, and plane fares for in-country travel will be at par with those for Indian nationals.
OCI cardholders must also obtain permission from the Reserve Bank of India to buy and sell property, said Abraham, noting that the Indian diaspora is still prohibited from buying agricultural land. “This sends a negative message. It is not a step forward in reclaiming the Indian diaspora to engage with India’s development,” he told India-West.
Abraham said the new regulations were troubling for India’s minority diaspora. “If you go to a church while visiting India, you could be accused of doing missionary activity. These are constraints on freedom of religion,” he said, noting similar restrictions for Muslims.
Abraham said he was also concerned about the restrictions posed on journalists. “If you write an article critical of India, you may never be allowed to return,” he said, noting that the restrictions were announced following the massive protests by Indian farmers; many foreign media criticized the Indian government’s actions.
“This is shielding the government from external criticism. It is a totalitarian move prohibiting the diaspora from expressing their views,” said Abraham, adding: “It is very troublesome.”
“This government is not upholding the values of the Indian constitution. It is not consistent with the democracy we are so proud of,” said Abraham, stating that the Modi government has been fast-tracking an RSS agenda.
Thomas Abraham, chairman of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin, told India-West the regulations are burdensome for OCI cardholders wishing to do business in India. Previously, OCI business people were on par with Indian citizens and could do business freely with minimal constraints.
But “foreign nationals,” as they will now be known, do not have that same ease of doing business, said Thomas Abraham, noting that India’s bureaucracy is heavy-handed with foreigners attempting to do business in the country, with a myriad of permits and licenses that must be obtained.
The Indian American community leader pointed to regulations which state that research conducted in India by foreign nationals must be divulged to the government, allowing competitors to easily gain access.
Moreover, OCI cardholders who have fueled India’s real estate industry by buying properties for retirement, will now also face massive hurdles when buying and selling.
The regulations come on the heels of a Feb. 26 Indian Supreme Court ruling that determined that any person who is not a citizen of India must obtain permission from the Reserve Bank of India before buying or selling property.
“This will create problems for India’s real estate industry,” said Thomas Abraham. “If there are hurdles here, we will just pack up and go elsewhere,” he said.
Note: The complete text of the Bulletin pertaining to OCI cardholders, as issued by the Government of India, appears below.