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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Govt reiterates: OCI cardholders require prior permission for research, journalism

In March 2020, when the nationwide lockdown was in force following the coronavirus outbreak, over 2,500 Tablighi Jamaat members were found to be residing at the organisation's headquarters in Delhi despite guidelines and orders issued against large congregations of people.

Written by Deeptiman Tiwary | New Delhi |
Updated: March 13, 2021 6:31:09 pm
The notifications says that the right of multiple entry lifelong visa for “any purpose” can be enjoyed provided the OCI obtains a special permission from “the competent authority” (File photo)

The government has notified a consolidated list of rights that Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) enjoy, spelling out that holders of OCI cards would need prior permission for a set of activities that include research, journalism, mountaineering, missionary or Tablighi work, and visits to restricted areas.

Sources said these rights and restrictions are not new – they have been notified previously in 2005, 2007, and 2009. They were also mentioned in an OCI brochure published by the Ministry of Home Affairs in November 2019. The restriction on Tablighi activities has existed since the mid-90s.

However, due to confusion over certain rights given to OCI cardholders with regard to their appearance for competitive exams in India, a consolidated notification had to be issued with some clarifications, the sources said.

OCIs have been pushing for implementation of rights on par with Indian citizens, especially in claiming seats in educational institutions through competitive exams. “There are multiple cases pending in courts in Karnataka, where OCIs have laid claim to seats reserved for Indian citizens. So things had to be clarified further,” a Home Ministry official said.

The notification in the Gazette on Thursday granted OCIs the right of multiple entry lifelong visa to India for any purpose; exemption from registration with the Foreigners’ Regional Registration Officer (FRRO) for any length of stay in India; and parity with Indian nationals in the matter of domestic air fares, entry fees to monuments and public places.

It also said that OCI cardholders will enjoy parity with Non Resident Indians (NRIs) in adoption of children, appearing in competitive exams, purchase or sale of immovable property barring agricultural land and farmhouses, and pursuing professions such as doctors, lawyers, architects, and chartered accountants.

However, many of these rights have been subjected to certain restrictions. The notifications says that the right of multiple entry lifelong visa for “any purpose” can be enjoyed provided the OCI obtains a special permission from “the competent authority” or the FRRO “to undertake research; to undertake any Missionary or Tabligh or Mountaineering or Journalistic activities; to undertake internship in any foreign Diplomatic Missions or foreign Government organisations in India or to take up employment in any foreign Diplomatic Missions in India; to visit any place which falls within the Protected or Restricted or prohibited areas as notified by the Central Government or competent authority”.

The restrictions on missionary and Tablighi activities on foreigners and OCIs have existed since the 90s when the latter were known as Persons of Indian Origin (PIO). In February 2018, the government published broad guidelines for Indian visa wherein it mentioned the restrictions on foreigners and OCIs from engaging in Tablighi activity.

“Foreign nationals granted any type of visa and OCI cardholders shall not be permitted to engage themselves in Tabligh work. There will be no restriction in visiting religious places and attending normal religious activities like attending religious discourses. However, preaching religious ideologies, making speeches in religious places, distribution of audio or visual display/pamphlets pertaining to religious ideologies, spreading conversion etc. will not be allowed,” the guidelines said then.

In Thursday’s notification, exemption from registration with the FRRO can be enjoyed provided the OCI cardholder intimates the FRRO by email whenever there is a change in their permanent residential address and occupation.

The notification says OCIs can appear for all-India entrance tests such as National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), 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.

The “OCI cardholder shall not be eligible for admission against any seat reserved exclusively for Indian citizens”.

“In respect of all other economic, financial and educational fields not specified in this notification or the rights and privileges not covered by the notifications made by the Reserve Bank of India under the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 (42 of 1999), the OCI cardholder shall have the same rights and privileges as a foreigner,” the notification said.

Sources said the November 2019 OCI brochure also contained these rights and restrictions. However, due to ambiguity about certain rights, a “fleshed out and consolidated” list of rights and restrictions has been notified, an MHA official said.

The 2019 brochure among other rights had mentioned that OCIs would be on par with NRIs in appearing for “All India Pre Medical Test or such other tests to make them eligible for admission in pursuance of the provisions contained in relevant Acts”.

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