Persons Of Indian Origin And Overseas Citizens Of India

By Chandrashekar (Chandra) Tamirisa, (On Twitter) @c_tamirisa

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The Government of India, in the age of global opportunity and global terror, and the associated movement of peoples around the world―a human right―is clarifying the status of those of Indian heritage around the world.

Several years ago, until as recently as less than a decade ago when I became a Naturalized American in 2002, Indians abroad would lose all access to their nation of birth if they migrated to a foreign land, crossing the seas. They had to apply for visas to return to their homeland. The moment of acceptance of foreign citizenship immediately invalidated the Indian citizenship of those who decided to leave India such as of myself, unlike the statuses of most Western Europeans and Canadians who enjoy full dual citizenship rights with the United States. The United States leaves it to the discretion of the countries of origin of its citizens to determine the dual citizenship rights of its immigrants.

India subsequently, a few years after 2002, introduced the Person of Indian Origin (PIO) program. A PIO was introduced as the equivalent of the U.S permanent resident visa for India, and was made available to former Indian citizens, their non-Indian children and even non-Indian spouses as long as the applicants could prove their Indian heritage tracing back even to several generation ago. I had availed of that program for my family (I had recently canceled it for my non-Indian spouse because I am obtaining a divorce) because it is easier to be a PIO than it is to obtain an Indian visa each time I wanted to visit India.

The overseas Indian community in the Western Hemisphere and in Australia and New Zealand had long wanted India to provide full dual citizenship rights similar to those enjoyed by those of Western European extraction outside of Europe. The Indian government, consistent with its ‘no dual citizenship law’ after independence in 1947, had finally acceded to granting overseas Indians who had become citizens of most foreign lands outside of the Indian subcontinent a quasi-dual citizenship status by introducing the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) program.

Both the PIO and OCI do not afford any political rights in India to Indians such as myself who have left India to become citizens of foreign countries but, in recognition of their Indian heritage, grant most non-political civic and economic rights, the PIO being more restricted than the OCI.

If the requirements of PIO and OCI are used as a hypothetical analogy for Americans of European extraction, many Americans would have similar access to most Western European countries, going back at least 3 generations, as emigrant Indians do to India with the PIO or the OCI.

The Indian government has made a wise choice by making both PIO and OCI available to foreigners to India, such as myself, of Indian heritage, though I would advise the Indian government to streamline the program to rescind the OCI by transferring all of the OCI benefits to the PIO, because citizenship, by definition is political, and therefore demands that the world’s peoples can only be citizens of a single country at any given time, whether they be of Indian extraction such as myself or of European extraction, as many Americans are, for the purposes of many European countries.


About Chandrashekar (Chandra) Tamirisa
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