Reaching out to the Indian diaspora, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday announced a special facility to enable them life-long visa-free entry into the country and participation in business and other activities.
Singh said the government had decided to merge the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) and the Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) cards into a single facility.
Addressing a gathering of Indian diaspora here, he pointed out that the Government had introduced the OCI and PIO cards to facilitate visa-free travel of NRIs and Indian Origin people to India as well as to provide them rights of residency and participation in business and educational activities.
"We have reviewed the functioning of these schemes, and have decided to merge the OCI and PIO cards into a single facility. We hope to iron out some of the problems that have arisen in the implementation of these schemes," he said.
Later, Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi said government will only issue Overseas Citizen of India card which will be a kind of life-long visa.
"We have to finalise the nitty gritty. But it has been decided that it will be OCI card and holder of the card will have life-long visa free entry into the country," he said.
PIO cards are given to Indians who have migrated permanently to other countries over centuries in a bid to encourage them to visit and invest in the country of origin.
A PIO card holder does not require a visa to visit India and the card is valid for 15 years. A PIO card holder enjoys several economic and educational benefits.
On the other hand, the OCI card is a kind of lifelong visa and any India origin person can apply for it if his host country allows dual citizenship.
Talking about the Indians who emigrate for work, Singh said their welfare is "a matter of special concern for us".
To improve the conditions for migration, India has signed Social Security Agreements with 12 countries and finalised Labour Mobility Partnerships with two others, he said, adding a generic arrangement is also being negotiated with the European Union also.
"As a further measure, we have now extended the facility of the Indian Community Welfare Fund to all Indian Missions," he said. At present, such funds are available in 42 Missions.
Singh said the government has decided to establish new Indian cultural centres in the US, Canada, Saudi Arabia, France and Australia.
"I urge the Indian communities in these countries to support and patronise these centres so that they become effective instruments for projecting the diversity and splendour of Indian culture," the Prime Minister said.