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The dilemmas of a returning Non-Resident Indian

Dual citizenship had been a long-standing demand of NRIs for sentimental and psychological reasons.

india Updated: Oct 17, 2005 11:49 IST

"May I have your attention please?" cooed the airhostess, "We have landed at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi...." The bleary-eyed passengers perked up to grab their handbags and deplane. "India, my love," mumbled Jackson Shermann, reminding himself to respond to his real name Jaikishen Sharma for the next two weeks.

Hauling their overflowing hand luggage, the 250-odd passengers moved to the Immigration Counters. Like everyone else, Jaikishen wished he could get his passport stamped quickly and move on. Long queues quickly formed at the counters for 'Indian Citizens' and 'Foreigners', but hardly a dozen people lined up at the far left counter marked 'Diplomats and PIOs'. He wondered what was 'PIO' and if he could stand in that queue.

PIO stood for 'Person of Indian Origin', he found out. Well, he was also a Person of Indian Origin, despite Westernising his name, but not on his passport. So he lined up at this counter. His turn came soon enough but he was curtly informed that a PIO should have a special PIO Card like a mini-passport before he can be whizzed through this VIP counter. So he was told to please line up at one of the other crowded counters.

Jaikishen got his Green Card and US citizenship long ago. Now he needed a PIO Card to speed his arrival in India as he planned to visit his 'grandmother's land' more often as India was on a roll. How could he get it? Asking another PIO cardholder in the short queue, he was told that an application has to be made at the Indian embassy back home in the US or any other country the applicant Indian lived in.

The PIO Card requirements are few: if you held an Indian passport at any time; or proof that your parents, grandparents or great grandparents were Indians; or if your spouse is Indian or a person of Indian origin. A fee of $250 and the normal documents like photocopies of the current passport with the initial visa page and four passport-sized photographs. Once the Indian mission accepts your application after scrutiny of the documents, it takes about six to eight weeks to process as it is sent to India for approval. In case you apply in India, it is sent to the Indian mission for verification in the country where you stay. Jaikishen could check it out at http://passport.nic.in. The site mentions $1,000 as the fees but it has been reduced.

In addition to clearing the Immigration super fast, what other benefits come with a PIO Card? Well, you get a 20-year multiple-entry visa and become an Indian citizen for all intents and purposes - except that you cannot vote or buy farmland. As a PIO, you can take up a job, offer consultancy, start a business, invest, open a bank account, buy property, invest in stocks and shares and get admissions for your children in universities and institutions for higher or technical education and training. You can get a PAN or Personal Account Number Card for Income Tax. This PAN Card with your photograph becomes your universally accepted identity card when you do not want to carry your foreign passport. In short, you become an Indian citizen for most purposes.

Instead of a PIO Card, then why not get dual citizenship, mused Jaikishen. Yes, the dual citizenship or overseas citizenship of India (OCI) was announced in June this year but is not yet implemented, as the logistics have not been worked out. All PIOs who migrated to other countries after January 26, 1950, or belonged to the territories which became part of India after August 15, 1947, can acquire overseas citizenship of India 'as long as their home countries allow dual citizenship in some form or the other'. Check it at www.mha.nic.in/fore_division.htm.

The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs will issue smart cards to registered OCIs in 16 countries - the US, Canada, the UK, the Netherlands, Italy, Ireland, Portugal, Switzerland, Greece, Cyprus, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, France, Sweden and Finland. It is no surprise that all these are 'rich' countries while the 'poor' countries of Africa, the Far East and Latin America are not included. 'Those who migrated to Pakistan and Bangladesh after January 26, 1950, cannot get dual citizenship.

Dual citizenship had been a long-standing demand of overseas Indians for sentimental and psychological reasons. Of course, it will boost investments and contributions to India's social development. When implemented, an overseas Indian has to pay $275 as the processing fees. If you have a PIO Card, you can convert it to OCI by paying the difference of $25. "I better get a PIO Card," thought Jaikishen as he cleared Immigration and moved into the Customs Hall.

(Kul Bhushan, previously a newspaper editor, has worked abroad and travelled to over 55 countries. Presently settled in Delhi, he can be reached at kb@kulbushan.net).

First Published: Oct 17, 2005 11:49 IST