With new OCI notification, India has ended its experiment with dual citizenship

In a stunning development for Overseas Citizens of India, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a notification on March 4 dramatically altering the compact between OCIs and the Indian state. This notification, which is issued under Section 7B of the Citizenship Act, 1955, supersedes three earlier notifications issued on April 11, 2005, January 5, 2007, and January 5, 2009, which laid down the rights of the OCIs.

Apart from humiliating and illegally classifying OCIs as “foreign nationals”, the new notification introduces a series of new restrictions that dramatically curtails the rights and liberties of OCIs in India. These restrictions include a requirement for OCIs to secure a special permit to undertake “any research”, to undertake any “missionary” or “Tablighi” or “journalistic activities” or to visit any area in India notified as “protected”, “restricted” or “prohibited”.

In addition, the notification now equates OCIs to “foreign nationals” in respect of “all other economic, financial and educational fields” for the purposes of the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 2003 although past circulars by the Reserve Bank of India under FEMA will hold ground. This reverses the position that has held for the last 16 years wherein OCIs were equated to Non-Resident Indians rather than “foreign nationals” for the purposes of their economic, financial and educational rights.

OCIs can however continue to purchase land (other than agricultural land), pursue the profession of medicine, law, architecture and accountancy and seek parity with Indian citizens with regard to airfares and entry fee to monuments and parks. OCIs can also continue to seek enrolment in Indian educational institutions on par with NRIs but not for seats reserved exclusively for Indian citizens.

Judicial defeats

Most of these new restrictions have likely been inspired by the defeats suffered by the government in various cases filed by OCIs before the judiciary. Take for example, the new requirement for OCIs to apply for a special permit to undertake any missionary activities. This restriction has been introduced to undercut a judgment by Justice Vibhu Bakru of the Delhi High Court wherein he came down heavily on the Ministry of Home Affairs for cancelling the OCI card of an American-Indian doctor on the grounds that he was engaged in “evangelical and subversive activities” while offering free medical services to the needy and the poor in Bihar.

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