Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday announced merging of the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) and the Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) cards into a single facility to simplify visa free entry and participation of the Indian diaspora in business and other activities in the country.
Singh also said that the government had decided to extended the facility of the Indian Community Welfare Fund to all Indian Missions.
Hailing the Indian diaspora, he pointed out that the Government had introduced the OCI and PIO cards to facilitate visa free travel for 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 addressing the 9th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas here.
In a bid to encourage PIOs (Indians who have migrated permanently to other countries over centuries) to visit and invest in India, such people were given PIO cards. 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.
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.