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A lot of India’s strength and diversity comes from the vibrant community of NRIs, who have strong ties to India. Be it economically, culturally or socially, Non-Resident Indians have always contributed to the growth and development of India. Not only are Non-Resident Indians known for their enterprising mind set and sharp intellect, the NRI community also plays a crucial role in bolstering ties between India and their country of residence.
This is precisely the reason that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his address in Madison Square Garden in New York promised an ecstatic crowd that he would overhaul all travel certificates required by NRIs and people of Indian origin. This would make it all the more easier for people of Indian origin with family ties in India to travel to the country. However, an unfortunate fallout of this announcement is that there has been quite a bit of confusion surrounding PIO card holders and OCI cards. In fact, soon after the changes were put to effect, the consulate general in New York received numerous complaints from people of Indian origin who were confused about the new rules and regulations regarding visas, PIO and OCI cards.
So, we are here to clear up any confusion you might have regarding these new rules and regulations. Even though the new rules were issued in 2015, there is still quite a lack of clarity when it comes to the new rules. Let us start by looking at the basics.
A Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) card was issued by the Government of India as a form of identification to people who were born in India, but renounced their Indian passport. It was also issued to people born abroad, whose parents held Indian passports, or even their spouses.
A PIO card had to be renewed every fifteen years, and the cardholder had to check in at the police station if they stayed in India for a period of more than 180 days. This also meant that they would not have to apply for a visa.
In January 2015, the PIO card was merged with the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card. The PIO card is now valid lifelong. PIO card holders no longer have to check in at the police station. Basically, this means that PIO card holders will now get the same benefits as OCI cardholders.
But, a person with OCI status is not a citizen of India. They cannot vote in Indian elections or run for office. With an OCI, what you can do is travel visa-free to India, participate in business and educational activities in India, and have the right to reside in India and inherit ancestral property. Remember that a spouse if an OCI card holder is also eligible to apply for an OCI card.
Now that we have a clear idea about the differences between an OCI and a PIO card, one of the questions we get asked the most is whether a PIO card holder can travel to India without a visa.
The first thing to do is check the date on which your PIO card was issued. If your PIO card was issued before 8 January 2015, then your card will have lifelong validity. However, If your card was issued on 9 January 2015 or after that, then your card is invalid. Such cardholders are eligible for a refund on their PIO card and will have to apply for an OCI card.
So, if your card has been issued on or before 8 January 2015, then you can travel to India without a visa. But, if your card is invalid, then you will not be eligible to travel to India without a visa unless you get your OCI card.
It takes approximately ten weeks to get an OCI card after you have applied for it. In case you need to travel to India before that time, you will have to apply for a tourist visa. A tourist visa takes approximately three to five days to process once all the necessary documents have been submitted. Depending on the country of your residence, you might also be eligible to apply for a visa-on-arrival. You could also try for an emergency visa by contacting the Consulate General during their working hours.
Whether you are an NRI, a PIO or an OCI card holder, remember that the best way to clarify all your doubts is always to get in touch with the Consulate General of India in your place of residence. We hope this article clears up some of the confusion regarding the new rules and regulations.
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