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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Journalism to research: curbs on OCI were on paper, now they are legal

However, a review of these notifications available on the website of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) shows they did not impose any of these restrictions.

Written by Deeptiman Tiwary | New Delhi |
Updated: March 9, 2021 7:55:12 am
However, a review of these notifications available on the website of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) shows they did not impose any of these restrictions.

THE GOVERNMENT’S gazette notification last week imposing restrictions on Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) from practising journalism or research, and engaging in Tabligh or missionary activities, has effectively granted legal sanction to what was earlier only a set of guidelines in an official brochure.

During an informal briefing Friday, the Ministry of Home Affairs had claimed that the rights and restrictions mentioned in the notification were merely a “consolidated list” of its notifications issued in 2005, 2007 and 2009 “with more clarifications”.

However, a review of these notifications available on the website of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) shows they did not impose any of these restrictions.

In fact, these restrictions make their first appearance only in an OCI brochure issued in November 2019 — Tabligh activities were mentioned earlier, too, in a guideline issued for Indian visas in 2018.

As per Thursday’s notification, OCI card holders would have to take prior permission from the “competent authority” or Foreigners Regional Registration Office (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 rights notified Thursday include grant of multiple entry lifelong visa to visit for any purpose; exemption from registration with FRRO for any length of stay; and parity with nationals in domestic air fares and entry fees to monuments and public places.

It has also said that OCI card holders will enjoy parity with Non Resident Indians (NRIs) in adoption, appearance in competitive exams, purchase or sale of immovable property barring agricultural and farm houses, and pursuing professions like medicine, law, architecture and chartered accountancy. These rights were also mentioned in the 2005, 2007 and 2009 notifications.

Apart from restrictions on journalism, research and missionary work, the new notification provides for exemption from registration with the FRRO if cardholders intimate the office by email if there is a change in permanent residential address or occupation.

The notification allows OCIs to 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 against any NRI or supernumerary seat. The “OCI cardholder shall not be eligible for admission against any seat reserved exclusively for Indian citizens”, it states.

The 2009 notification only stated that OCIs would be entitled to “appear for the All India Pre-Medical Test or such tests to make them eligible for admission in pursuance of the provisions contained in the relevant Acts”.

According to sources, this led to litigation in various courts where OCIs claimed similar rights as Indian citizens in appearing for competitive exams and gaining admission to premier institutes.

In December 2020, the Karnataka High Court order had cited the 2009 notification while quashing a state government regulation that treated OCIs as NRIs for admission to colleges. A January 2019 order of the Delhi High Court had similarly quashed government orders to revoke a US citizen’s OCI card on the ground that he was involved in missionary activities.

“Because of these litigations, a brochure detailing the rights and restrictions on OCIs had been brought out by the Ministry in November 2019. A consolidated list of rights and restrictions with more clarifications were notified in the gazette on Thursday,” a Home Ministry official said.

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