Citizenship path to be eased for 6 minority groups from 3 nations

Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians, Buddhists, Jains from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh will be allowed to produce expired passports, visas

December 18, 2022 07:52 pm | Updated December 19, 2022 11:33 am IST - NEW DELHI

Photo used for representation purpose only.

Photo used for representation purpose only. | Photo Credit: PTI

The Centre is all set to ease the citizenship process for minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who entered India on valid documents, but whose passports and visas have since expired.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is expected to rejig the citizenship portal to accept expired passports and visas as supporting documents to process the citizenship application for members of six minority communities — Hindu, Sikh, Parsi, Christian, Buddhist and Jain — from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, according to a government source. 

The citizenship portal run by the MHA currently accepts expired passports as supporting documents only for those Hindu and Sikh applicants from Pakistan and Afghanistan who entered India before December 31, 2009. In 2018, after reports of corruption emerged during manual screening, all citizenship processes were moved online.

Facing hurdles

According to Hindu Singh Sodha, president of the Seemant Lok Sanghathan (SLS), an organisation that works for the rights of Pakistani minorities in India, the portal does not accept expired Pakistani passports for people who came on or after January 1, 2010. 

“For a Pakistani Hindu who entered India in 2010, the online system does not accept the expired passport, leading to the application not being accepted. The person or family has to then rush to the Pakistani High Commission in Delhi who charge a hefty sum to renew the passports and sometimes reject it on flimsy grounds. Even though the person is eligible to get Indian citizenship under the 1955 Act, as he or she has spent around 12 years in India, they face hurdles,” Mr. Singh said. 

Exempt from criminal charges

In 2015, MHA amended the Citizenship Rules and legalised the stay of foreign migrants belonging to these six communities who entered India on or before December 31, 2014 due to religious persecution, by exempting them from the provisions of the Passport Act and the Foreigners Act even as their passports expired. Though they were exempt from facing any criminal action for illegally staying in India, the online portal still does not accept the expired documents to process their citizenship applications. 

“Changes will be made to the online portal so that foreign passports and visa that have passed their validity can be accepted as a supporting document to apply for citizenship,” the source said.

People seeking Indian citizenship either come on long term visas (LTV) or pilgrim visas. LTVs given for five years are considered a precursor to citizenship.

CAA not yet in force

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019, that intends to grant citizenship to undocumented (or illegal) migrants from these six non-Muslim communities from the three neighbouring countries who entered India before December 31, 2014, is yet to come into force as the rules that govern the law are yet to be notified. 

The CAA could have helped the documented minority migrants in fast-tracking their applications as it reduces the mandatory requirement of 11 years aggregate stay in India to five years, to be eligible for citizenship. Many Pakistani Hindus who entered India legally and have spent more than 11 years in India also await citizenship.

Thousands waiting

According to Mr. Singh, there are 18,000 registered Pakistani Hindus who await citizenship.

The MHA informed the parliament in December 2021 that between the years 2018-2021, the government received 8,244 citizenship applications from the minority groups and granted citizenship to 3,117 applicants.

According to the MHA’s annual report for 2021-22, in the COVID-19 affected year of 2021, from April-December, as many as 1,414 citizenship certificates were granted to members of the minority communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. 

The MHA has also delegated powers to grant Indian citizenship by registration or naturalisation, in respect of the six minority communities who entered India on valid passports and visas, to district collectors of 31 districts and the Home Secretaries of nine States. As many as 2,439 LTVs were granted by the MHA for minority communities between March and December 2021. Of these, 2,193 were from Pakistan, 237 from Afghanistan, and nine from Bangladesh.

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