Traditionally, when it comes to Indians (people of Indian origin) living across the world, the Government of India has two definitions entitled for them- Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) and Person of Indian Origin (PIO). In 2002, the PIO scheme was launched as a means to offer citizenship benefits to people of Indian origin who also possess foreign nationalities, in line with the benefits enjoyed by the common Indian populace. Correspondingly, in 2006, another scheme with the title Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) was launched that offered more benefits to said Indian-origin foreign citizens as compared to PIO. Finally, in 2015, the Indian Government merged both the PIO and OCI schemes to form one streamlined option that serves as the Government’s outreach to Indian origin people with foreign citizenship.
What is a PIO Card & why was is it discontinued?
Essentially, a Person of Indian Origin (PIO) card is an identity document that identifies the owner as a foreign based citizen of Indian origin. This allows the Indian Government to bestow upon said individuals a number of benefits that are reserved for people with Indian citizenship. The PIO card scheme came into effect in 2002.
Salient Features of PIO Cards- Allows PIO cardholders to stay in India for a duration of 15 years without any Visa requirements, no need to register with Foreigner Regional Registration Office (FRRO) through the first 180 days stay in India- post that registration must be completed in 30 days, provision of all educational, financial and economic benefits that are commonly bestowed upon NRIs.
Why Discontinued?- Technically, the PIO card hasn’t been terminated but merged with the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) scheme, a plan similar to PIO that came into existence in 2006. The Indian Government is a fan of the terminology ‘Overseas Citizen of India’ as compared to ‘Person of Indian Origin’ that sounds overtly foreign. Seriously, the extra feature set as provided by the OCI scheme made it much more attractive to foreign nationals of Indian origin as compared to PIO and thus, the inevitable merger followed. Existing PIO cardholders were automatically migrated to the OCI system and additionally, they were offered the choice to apply for an OCI card.
What is an OCI Card?
As mentioned above, the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card is bestowed upon people of Indian origin who also own a foreign citizenship. To qualify for an OCI status, the applicant must satisfy the following criteria:
- Foreign nationals who earned the eligibility for Indian citizenship as of 26th January, 1950.
- Foreign nationals who were designated as Indian citizens at any point after 26th January, 1950.
- Foreigners of Indian origin who previously were residing in a territory that seceded to the Indian sovereign Government after India’s independence on 15th August, 1947.
- Minor children with parents/guardians who qualify per any of the conditions listed above.
- However, OCI Application forms can never be processed for foreign nationals from Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The OCI card can be considered as a vital identity document if you are a foreigner of Indian origin. The OCI card application process is a simple procedure that has been sufficiently explained in the section below.
Eligibility for OCI Card
Before you can fill up the OCI application form, consider the following criteria that must be satisfied for your application to be successful. You must either be a,
- Who was a citizen of India at any point since the Indian constitution was formed (26 Jan, 1950)
- Who held eligibility for Indian citizenship when the constitution of India was conceived
- Who was a citizen of territories that joined India after her independence on 15th Aug, 1947
- Children, grand-children or great grand-children of people who were citizens of India at any point since the Indian constitution came into being on 26th January 1950.
- At least one of the parents in an Indian citizen.
- Wife/husband of a OCI/PIO cardholder or Indian citizen. Provided the marriage was legally registered and subsisted for at least 2 continuous years before application.
- Citizens of Bangladesh and Pakistan cannot apply for the new OCI cards. The restriction also extends to the parents, grandparents or great-grandparents of such citizens.
- OCI cardholders below 21 years and above the age of 50 must apply for the new OCI card along with any new passport.
OCI Card Application Process
The Indian Government has simplified the entire OCI card application process, rendering it quick, timely and minus too much red-tape. The actual OCI application form can be segregated into two parts:
Part A- The applicant must fill and submit this form online.
Part B- This OCI card application must be submitted in-person, alongside 4 recent photographs of the applicant.
These photos must be of the dimensions of 35mm x 35mm in light non-white background.
Alongside the actual OCI application form, the following documents must also be submitted:
- Previous Indian passport. If unavailable, India-issued documents such as nativity certificate, birth certificate etc. can be submitted.
- Birth Certificate
- Valid foreign and current passport
- Proof of relationship is applicant applies on the basis of parents’ Indian citizenship
- Fee of US$275 to be paid in cash
Photocopies of the above documents need be submitted. However, at the time of submission of the OCI Application form, the originals must be presented for verification.
How to Convert PIO Cards into OCI Cards?
As has been noted earlier, two separate card schemes that served almost similar functions served as the Indian Government’s means to identify and benefit foreign nationals of Indian origin. PIO cards and OCI cards are essentially alike, so it makes sense to converge the duo and streamline the procedure. This is what was accomplished as an amendment to the Citizenship Act in 2015. Further, clear directions were laid out with regards to the status of existing PIO cards. The gist of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2015, that was passed by both houses of parliament on March 4th, 2015 and came into effect from January 6th, 2015 (the day it was first proposed) is as follows:
- Existing owners of PIO cards will automatically be considered as OCI cardholders. They may obtain a separate, dedicated OCI card if required.
- Individuals whose PIO application forms are under processing and approved will automatically be migrated to the OCI system with the former now marked as the OCI application form.
- Applicants whose submitted PIO application forms have not yet been approved must reapply with a fresh OCI application form.
As can be gauged, maximum efforts have been made to ensure that existing PIO cardholders aren’t side lined or subject to difficult procedures to join the OCI fold. In summary, the PIO card is now completely discontinued and the OCI card takes its place for all intents and purposes.
OCI Cardholders versus Indian Citizens
As coveted as the status of an OCI cardholder is, there are certain restrictions applicable alongside the plethora of privileges. All individuals who are seeking out the OCI card application form must be aware of the following limitations:
- He/she cannot stand in an election for the position of Vice President or President of India.
- The OCI cardholder is denied voting rights for elections.
- He/she cannot be appointed as a judge in Indian High Courts or Supreme Court.
- He/she cannot become the member of Rajya Sabha or Lok Sabha. Also, he/she is denied membership into any Legislative Council or Legislative Assembly pertaining to any Indian state.
- He/she cannot be appointed as a member of any public service initiative/posts that concern themselves with the affairs of the center or any state.
- The OCI cardholder cannot work for any public enterprise.
As most of these limitations are specific to law-making and public sector job opportunities in India, an average OCI cardholder will not be severely impacted. Afterall, the OCI status equates to earning a livelihood and residing abroad.
Advantages of OCI Card over POI Card
|Subject||PIO card||OCI Card|
|Exclusions||Citizens of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Nepal, Pakistan or Sri Lanka at any point of time||Citizens of Pakistan and Bangladesh at any time|
|Visa Validity||15 years from date of issue||Lifelong|
|FFRO/FFO registration||After 180 days of stay||Not required|
|Indian Citizenship application||Minimum 7 years of regular stay in India||Minimum 1 year of residence in India after completion of 5 years of OCI card holding|
|Restricted locations||Permissions required to visit||No permissions required|
|Fee||US$ 388 (US $180 for minors)||
|Application process||Offline only and single step||Online for Part A and offline for Part B, multiple steps|
|Processing times||2-4 weeks||3-4 months|
|Education||Under NRI quota||Under NRI quota|
|Plantation or agriculture properties (inheritance only)||Yes||Yes|
|Adoption||Similar to foreign nationals||Similar to NRIs|
|Domestic airfares||Similar to foreign nationals||Similar to NRIs|
Updates for PIO cardholders – Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2015
In September 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that going forward PIOs and OCIs will be considered to be the same and PIO cards will cease to be issued. Holders of PIO cards need to convert their cards to OCI cards in order to be able to travel to India and enjoy the benefits of being an overseas Indian citizen, which are on par with Indian resident citizens in most terms.
The concept of PIOs and OCIs was introduced in 2002 and 2006 respectively under the Citizenship Act, 1955. An amendment to this act was passed by both house of the parliament in March 2015, with the Amendment Act coming into force from January 2015.
As Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2015 essentially merges both PIO and OCI cardholders into a single category called as Overseas Citizen of India Cardholder (OCC). OCI cardholders will continue to enjoy the same benefits as before while PIO cardholders will now receive some of the additional benefits being bestowed on OCI cardholders.
FAQ on OCI & PIO Cards:
- What fees must I pay when I submit my OCI Application Form?
- If the OCI card application is submitted outside India, the same would cost the applicant US$ 275 or an equivalent amount in his/her local currency. The money should be paid via Demand Draft.
- If the application is submitted in India, the applicant must pay a sum of Rs.15,000 via Demand Draft in favour of “Pay and Accounts Officer (Secretariat), Ministry of Home Affairs” payable at New Delhi.
- One of the criteria to apply for the OCI card is citizenship of territories that joined India after her independence. What are these territories?
The territory status in this instance applies to regions that joined the Union of India post 15th August 1947, India’s Independence Day. These territories are as follows,
- Dadra & Nagar Haveli, joined 11.08.1961
- Goa, Daman and Diu, joined 20.12.1961
- Pondicherry, joined 16.08.1962
- Sikkim, joined 26.04.1975
- Can the OCI application forms be filled and submitted online?
Yes. With regards to the Form XIX, Part A and Part B of the application form can be filled and submitted online. However, the printed sections of the same Part A and Part B forms must be manually submitted to the Indian Mission/ Post/ Office alongside all the other requested documents.
- How long will it take for me to receive my OCI card after application?
A maximum of 30 days. The OCI card process will be completed in that duration. However, if the applicant’s application is found to have discrepancies, the final decision to approve the OCI card application and approve the same will be taken within a maximum duration of 120 days.
- How much must a PIO cardholder pay in order to apply for OCI card?
If the applicant already has a PIO card, he/she must pay US$ 25 (or equivalent in the local currency) alongside the completed OCI application form. If applied in India, the cost is Rs.1,400.