The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has reiterated through a gazette notification that Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cardholders can lay claim to “only NRI (Non Resident Indian) quota seats” in educational institutions based on all-India entrance tests such as National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), Joint Entrance Examination (Mains), Joint Entrance Examination (Advanced) or other such all-India professional tests.
The notification also reproduced a part of the guidelines issued by the Ministry on November 15, 2019 regarding benefits to OCI cardholders , which said that OCIs are not entitled to undertake any “missionary, mountaineering, journalism and tabligh activities” without prior permission of the Government of India. The notification provides legal teeth to the guidelines.
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 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”.
OCI citizens are of Indian origin but they are foreign passport holders and are not citizens of India. India does not allow dual citizenship but provides certain benefits under Section 7B(I) of the Citizenship Act, 1955 to the OCIs.
The fresh notification replaces three previous notifications issued on the subject on April 11, 2005; January 5, 2007; and January 5, 2009, respectively. The previous notifications did not specify the special permission required for “missionary, Tabligh, mountaineering or journalistic activities” and were merely part of the November 2019 guidelines.
A Ministry official said that several OCI cardholder students have filed petitions in courts that they are eligible to get admission against general seats in medical, engineering and other government colleges if they clear the all-India tests.
In March 2019, the MHA clarified to the Karnataka High Court that students with OCI cards had “parity with Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) and can lay claim only on the NRI quota seats based on the all-India tests”.
However on December 15, 2020, the High Court of Karnataka directed that students under the OCI category are to be considered as “citizens of India” for admission to professional courses and asked the State government to admit them to undergraduate professional courses, including engineering, medical, and dental, even under the government and institutional quotas, and not to restrict their admission only under the NRI quota.
The March 4 notification by the MHA said that OCI card holders will have parity with NRIs in the matter of “appearing for the all India entrance tests such as National Eligibility cum Entrance Test, Joint Entrance Examination (Mains), Joint Entrance Examination (Advanced) or such other tests to make them eligible for admission only against any Non-Resident Indian seat or any supernumerary seat: “Provided that the OCI cardholder shall not be eligible for admission against any seat reserved exclusively for Indian citizens.”
OCIs are eligible for grant of multiple entry lifelong visa for visiting India for any purpose and are exempt from registration with the FRRO for any length of stay in India. The fresh notification adds that the OCI cardholders who are normally residents in India “shall intimate the FRRO by email whenever there is a change in permanent residential address and in their occupation”.
The notification gives parity to OCIs with Indian nationals in the matter of tariffs in air fares in domestic sectors, entry fees for visiting national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, the national monuments, historical sites and museums in India. It 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 farm house or plantation property and to pursue the following professions — doctors, dentists, nurses and pharmacists, advocates, architects and chartered accountants.
The MHA said that in respect of all other economic, financial and educational fields not specified in the notification, the OCI cardholder shall have the same rights and privileges as a foreigner.
An official said that the notification will not impact the 2018 decision by the government that made OCIs eligible for appointment as permanent teaching faculty in premier educational institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology, National Institutes of Technology, Indian Institutes of Management, Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, Indian Institute of Science, and Central Universities and new All Indian Institutes of Medical Sciences set up under the Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana (PMSSY).
“The recruitment of OCIs in educational institutes is governed by Section 7B 2 (I) of the Citizenship Act, 1955. Central government can specify the rules by special orders,” said the official.