The difference between a PIO and an OCI card

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In a recent report, India has seen 17 million people leave the country to settle abroad. Most of these people were not unskilled labour migrating for better prospects but skilled individuals. The number of unskilled migrants leaving India has been significantly falling. According to a report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), an estimated 391,000 left India in 2017, while the country was seeing almost double the amount, 637,000 leaving the country in 2011. The strength of a passport dictates the number of countries an individual holding that passport can travel to without having to apply for a visa. Many passports allow for travel to certain countries and provide a visa on arrival and not through a tedious paperwork process. Currently, however, the strength of the Indian passport continues to underwhelm the world. The latest Henley Passport Index released on 7th January placing India at the joint 84th rank, as it enjoys visa-free access to only 58 nations.

What were the arrangements made by the Government to allow people to travel back and forth?

The OCI was introduced by the Indian Government in response to demands for dual citizenship, not accepted by the Constitution of India, by the Indian diaspora from developed parts fo the world. It was introduced by The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2005 in August 2005. With Indian overseas citizens abroad and applying for citizenship in those countries, depending on the strength of that passport, they might be allowed to travel to India. However, this seems quite unlikely, and most people would have to apply for an OCI card, which is a document that allows people of foreign nationality and root in India to travel back and forth without applying for a visa. While people with roots in India can keep applying for the OCI card, there are a few exceptions. The Central Government is currently granting Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) to people who have migrated from the country as well as to those whose ancestors belonged to India. No person, with parents, grandparents, great grandparents who have been citizens of Pakistan or Bangladesh are eligible for registration as an Overseas Citizen of India. Additionally, people who served as a member of any foreign military would also not be allowed to go through the process.

What was the difference between an OCI card and a PIO card?

Before 2011, the External Affairs Ministry was running a separate scheme for people of Indian Origin (PIO) cardholders. PIO cardholders were Indian-origin individuals up to four generations removed, except those living in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Afghanistan. In 2015, all PIOs automatically received the OCI status, but a person with OCI status is not an Indian citizen. They would not have voting rights in India and cannot contest elections or stand for office. The OCI, on the other hand, facilitates visa-free travel to India, rights of residency and participation in business and educational activities in the country. The spouse of an Indian-origin person is also eligible for OCI. The Government also mentioned that all PIOs documents with a life long validity and people would not have to apply for OCI documents since the PIO project stopped. The process is quite simple and only takes the filling of an OCI application and providing supporting documents.

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