On 4 March, a notification was issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs, India that changes the rights of OCI Cardholders otherwise known as Overseas Citizens of India. Contradictory to the name, the new notification which is issued under Citizenship Act 1955 classifies OCIs as “foreign nationals” in addition to introducing a series of new restrictions. This reverses the position that has held for the last many years that OCIs were equated to Non-Resident Indians rather than “foreign nationals” for the purposes of their economic, financial and educational rights.
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 an 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 notification gives equal status to OCIs with Indian nationals in the matter of tariffs in airfares in domestic sectors, entry fees for visiting national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, the national monuments, historical sites and museums in India. It also gives parity to OCIs with NRIs in the matter of inter-country adoption of Indian children subject to the compliance of the procedure as laid down by the competent authority for such adoption, purchase or sale of immovable properties other than agricultural land or farmhouse or plantation property and to pursue the following professions — doctors, dentists, nurses and pharmacists, advocates, architects and chartered accountants.
The fresh notification adds that the OCI cardholders who are normally residents in India and who reside in India for more than 180 days at a time “shall intimate the FRRO by email whenever there is a change in permanent residential address and in their occupation”.
Most of these new restrictions have likely been inspired by the defeats suffered by the government in various cases filed by OCIs before the judiciary. The assertion that OCIs are foreign nationals and not Indian citizens is most likely inspired by ongoing litigation before the Delhi High Court wherein an OCI has sought a declaration from the court that OCIs enjoy fundamental rights just like Indian citizens.