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New passport for overseas citizens of India

By Amit Baruah

NEW DELHI, MARCH 19. It may not be the blue passport that Indian nationals carry, but it will be a new passport. As a follow-up to Parliament permitting the creation of a new category of dual citizens or "overseas citizens of India" in December, the Ministry of External Affairs is busy looking at designs for an OCI passport.

"The passport has to be different from the one issued to Indian nationals. But, we have not really decided on the colour yet since we are still at the design stage," Ministry sources told this correspondent.

Though the fee question is still to be clinched, one proposal before the Government is that an OCI passport, which will carry a 10-year validity, may cost $250 or about Rs.11,000.

Overseas Indian citizens, of course, will not have voting rights.

Rules under the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003, are now being framed by the Ministry of External Affairs in consultation with the Home Ministry. "We hope to complete this exercise soon," the sources said.By when will the OCI be on offer? "We hope to place the rules in Parliament as soon as the new Lok Sabha is convened and the forms for OCI applications will be made available by July 1," they said.

Now, the OCI facility will be extended to Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) in 16 countries — Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Republic of Cyprus, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States of America.

"The grant of dual citizenship was intended to remove for those who have taken foreign passports the obstacle in travel to and from India, permit investment in business ventures and foster a greater sense of belonging," an official note said.

The sources clarified that, say, a Canadian national of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin, or any nationality that the Central Government may notify, will not be eligible to apply for overseas Indian citizenship.

Applications for OCI, they said, could be made in the country of jurisdiction of an Indian mission or post in which the person was resident, or to the Collector of a district in case the foreign national was based in India.

Asked whether the OCI will be available to citizens of the 16 countries who are not of Indian origin, the sources replied in the negative. "The conditions applicable are the same as in the case of the Person of Indian Origin (PIO) card."

Could this create a problem in case any of these countries want that the offer of dual citizenship should be across the board? "Countries can interpret it in this way. But we are clear that the offer is only to PIOs. In case any of these countries want it to be across the board, then PIOs might lose out."

The sources also said the OCI facility was not being extended to countries with large, settled populations of Indians such as South Africa or Fiji because the Government did not want to create problems for PIOs there.

In countries like South Africa, PIOs had fought long and hard to be treated as equal citizens and the offer of dual citizenship might be misunderstood, they added.

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