Want to know about NRIs, PIOs, OCIs ?


By Kris Gopal

E-mail:  gutcut@comcast.net

Editor’s Note: Readers of this magazine are familiar with the acronyms and abbreviations relating to Indian citizens under different visa/citizenship categories. The most important of these acronyms are NRIs (Non-Resident Indians), POI cards (People of Indian Origin cards), and OCI cards (Overseas Citizens of India cards). Other terms are Green Cards, Naturalized Citizens and Natural Citizens. Indian-Americans is a term often used in the US relevant only in a social context, with no legal validity.

For a variety of reasons, many naturalized US citizens in the US carry either the PIO card or the OCI card the obvious one being the visa-free entry into India any time. There are other important differences between the PIO cards and OCI cards that pertain to driving privileges, privileges and restrictions to work in India and ownership of properties, bank accounts, money transfers, inheritance… …

These are important legal and citizenship terms having far-reaching implications. So, take the information in the article in our website as a starting point to get a general idea. You need to do further search to get the most current and precise definition of these terms. Many websites are available to guide you in this search.

Kris Gopal, a long-time resident of our area has figured this all out for your benefit in the simple, easily readable and understandable article below. 

1. NRI

While OCIs (Overseas Citizens of India) have given up their full Indian citizenship, NRIs (non-Resident Indians) are still citizens of India. This is technically a tax classification as opposed to a visa status.
Who can be an NRI?
An Indian citizen residing outside India for a combined total of at least 183 days in a financial year (from April 1 to March 31).
What are the benefits of being a NRI?
You can get special bank accounts from Indian banks.
You can continue to own land and property in India.
Your earnings outside India are not taxed by the Indian government, provided you have paid taxes in the nation you reside in. Local earnings in India (interest, rental income) are still taxed.
There is a special quota of seats in Indian universities reserved for NRIs.
You can still vote, but you have to be in India to do it.
What are the drawbacks?
You may need permission to take out money invested in India.
You may not purchase agricultural land or farm houses.
You may not hold a government job.
You may not be elected to a political position.
How do you become an NRI?
There is no application form needed. The only official record of being an NRI comes on your yearly tax filing. This status can change from year to year. If you wish to open an NRI bank account, you simply need to inform your bank of your plans.

2. PIO

A PIO (Person of Indian Origin) card allows for visa-free travel to and from India.
Who can be a PIO?
Every person of Indian origin who is a citizen of another country (other than those specified by the Indian govt.) is eligible to apply for PIO Card regardless of ethnic origin, so long as they were not born in, or ever nationals of, the prohibited countries specifically mentioned by the Indian government.
  • The person used to be an Indian citizen (held an Indian passport)
  • The person or at least one parent, grandparent,or great-grandparent who is/was born in and permanently resided in India
  • The person is married to an Indian citizen or an existing PIO covered under (1) and (2) above
The following groups of people cannot have OCI status:
  • Anyone who was ever a citizen of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Iran, China or Nepal
  • Anyone whose parents or grandparents were citizens of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Iran, China or Nepal
What are the benefits of being a PIO?
  • A multiple entry, multi –purpose visa for visiting India. PIO Card itself is treated as a Visa
  • No separate Student/Employment/Business visa will be required for admission in colleges/intuitions or taking up employment, business, etc in India
  • Special counters for speedy immigration clearance at designated Immigration check posts
  • Exemption from registration with local police authorities for continuous stay up to 180 days in India
  • Exemption from registration with local police authorities for miners up to 16 years of age
  • Parity with Non-resident Indians (NRIs) in economic, financial and educations fields except for acquisition of agricultural land or plantations
  • PIO Card can be used as identity proof for applying for a (I) PAN card, (II) driving license and (III) opening of Ban account in India, if the PIO card holder resides in India.
What are the drawbacks?
  • You may not purchase agricultural land or farm houses
  • You may not vote
  • You may not hold a government job
  • You may not be elected to a political position
  • You may not travel to restricted areas without permission
  • You may not undertake any missionary work, mountaineering and research work, without the prior permission of the Government of India.

3. OCI

An Overseas Citizen of India is a lifetime visa status. It is the closest thing to dual citizenship that India offers.
Who can be an OCI?
  • A person who used to be an Indian citizen
  • A person with at least one parent, grandparent,or great-grandparent who is/was an Indian citizen
  • A person married to an Indian citizen or an existing OCI for at least two continuous years
  • The following groups of people cannot have OCI status:
    • Anyone who was ever a citizen of Pakistan or Bangladesh
    • Anyone whose parents or grandparents were citizens of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, or Sri Lanka
    • Anyone who served in a foreign military or worked in a foreign defense department
What are the benefits of being an OCI?
  • Lifelong multiple entry visa to India
  • You can eventually become a citizen of India if you remain an OCI for 5 years and live in India for at least 1 year (short breaks are now allowed)
  • You can use special counters during immigration
  • You don’t need a student/employment visa to study or get a job in India
  • You can open a special bank account in India, just like an NRI
  • You can make investments in India, buy non-farm property and exercise property ownership rights
  • Your can use your OCI card to apply for a driver’s license, open a bank account, or get a PAN card
  • You get the same economic, financial, and education benefits as NRIs
  • You pay the Indian resident fee when visiting a national parks, monuments, museums or wildlife sanctuary (of course it is ultimately up to the discretion of the man issuing tickets)
What are the drawbacks?
  • You may not purchase agricultural land or farm houses
  • You may not vote
  • You may not hold a government job
  • You may not be elected to a political position
  • You may not travel to restricted areas without permission
Difference between PIO and OCI
The difference is the eligibility criteria. The PIO scheme covers up to four generations and the foreign spouse of an Indian national or a PIO/OCI card holder. On the other hand, for the OCI card it is mandatory to be eligible in your own terms i.e a foreign national is not eligible for the OCI card even if he/she is married to a valid OCI card holder. However, their children will be eligible.
Why the decision to convert PIO to OCI?
According to the Citizenship Amendment bill, 2015, all PIO card holders are ‘deemed to be’ to be OCI card holders with effect from January 9, 2016. However, the act did not specify that the cards will need to be changed. This has led to serious implementation issues with the PIO-OCI merger resulting in much confusion at Indian embassies and immigration portals abroad. Also, the PIO cards will not be compatible with the card reading machines to be installed at Indian airports soon.
This is why the Indian government announced the decision to convert PIO cards to OCI before December 31, 2016. The deadline was recently extended from 31 December last year to 30 June, without any penalty.
How do you become/convert to an OCI?
You can apply through the Indian embassy in your country of residence or within India at the local FRRO.
Here is a sample of documentation you will need (see your local consulate for a specific list):
  • Proof of present citizenship
  • Proof of former Indian citizenship (for you or your relative)
  • Proof of renunciation of Indian citizenship (if applicable)
  • Proof of relationship to an Indian citizen
  • The entire process can take several months in some cases. Fees vary from nationality to nationality. If you apply in India, the fee is Rs. 15,000 for an adult or Rs. 8,000 for a minor. You can convert a PIO card to an OCI card if you qualify, and the fees are very nominal.   ♣
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