Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday that the Centre had extended the deadline for applying for the conversion of Person of Indian Origin (PIO) cards to Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cards till June 30 without any penalty.
In his address at the 14th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Bengaluru, he said the government was also working to put in place procedures for making descendants of the indentured labour living in Fiji and other countries eligible for overseas citizens of India (OCI) cards.
“Starting with Mauritius, we are working to put in place procedures so that descendants of Girmitiyas could become eligible for OCI Cards. We remain committed to addressing similar difficulties of PIOs in Fiji, Reunion Islands, Suriname, Guyana and other Caribbean States,” he said .
Girmityas are descendents of indentured Indian labourers who were brought to Fiji to work on sugarcane plantations in mid-1800s.
This is the third time the date for conversion of PIO cards to OCI cards has been extended since March 31, 2016.
The PIO card was first implemented in 2002 as a benefit to foreign nationals who could establish at least a third generation tie to Indian origin. The PIO card was valid for travel, work, and residence in India for a period of 15 years.
The OCI card was implemented in 2005, carried more benefits than the PIO card, and is valid for the holder’s lifetime.
Modi also said there are over 30 million overseas Indians living abroad and they were not just respected for their numbers, but for the contributions they have made to the societies they live in.
“The NRIs and PIOs have made outstanding contributions to their chosen fields. They are role models for immigrants from other backgrounds and countries ... They take our values and culture wherever they go. The Indian diaspora have contributed their best towards progress in that country,” Modi said.
He said the remittance of close to 69 billion dollars annually by overseas Indians made an invaluable contribution to the Indian economy.
Modi also said his government was taking steps to convert brain drain into brain gain.
“When people spoke of brain drain, it was believed that the brighter people went abroad seeking employment opportunities ... but I was asking people that whoever are left behind in India, are they dumb? It is our endeavour to convert that brain drain into brain gain,” he said.
Modi also said the govermment will launch skill development programme, Pravasi Kaushal Vikas Yojna, for Indian youth who seek employment overseas.
He spoke about the various measures taken for welfare and safety of Indians abroad --- from carrying out evacuation of Indians in distress to other steps taken by his government in last two years -- specifically mentioning the efforts of external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj in this regard.