According to a government notification that has been welcomed by members of the community, people of Indian origin and the Indian diaspora having Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cards are now not required to carry their old, expired passports for travel to India, as required earlier.
Benefits of OCI
The Overseas Citizens of India or OCI card is issued to people of Indian origin globally which gives them almost all the privileges of an Indian national except for the right to vote, government service and buying agricultural land. The OCI card gives them visa-free travel to India.
In a March 26 press release, the Indian missions in the US said that in order to ease the travel of OCI cardholders, it has been decided that the “timeline for re-issuance of OCI cards in r/o OCI cardholders, who may be required to get their OCI card reissued has been extended until 31 December 2021.”
Further “requirement of carrying old and new passports along with the OCI card has been done away. Henceforth, the OCI cardholders travelling on the strength of their existing OCI card bearing old passport number are not required to carry their old passport. However, carrying a new passport is mandatory.”
Reactions from all around the globe
New York-based social activist Prem Bhandari, who has been taking up the cause of OCI cardholders for the past several years, welcomed the announcement. He expressed gratitude to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of External Affairs and the Government of India for not only extending the renewal up to December 31 this year but also for relaxing the guidelines and not requiring OCI cardholders to carry their old, expired foreign passports.
“The OCI cardholders can heave a sigh of relief worldwide,” with these new guidelines, he said. He expressed thanks to Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla for the new guidelines.
Bhandari said that he had seen first-hand the inconvenience caused to members of the Indian diaspora due to certain OCI card rules as they undertook to travel to India during the pandemic.
He said some of the passengers were not allowed to board flights to India and were sent back from airports as they were not carrying their old foreign passports, which was required as per government rules.
Why is an OCI card important?
The OCI card, among other benefits, allows multiple entry, multi-purpose lifelong visa to an Indian-origin foreign national to visit India. Under the provisions of the OCI card, which gives the cardholder a lifelong visa to India, those below 20 years and above 50 years need to renew their OCI card every time they have their passport renewed.
The Indian government has relaxed the provisions since last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The timeline has been extended multiple times so far. However, this is for the first time that the guidelines have been relaxed for carrying old passports and the new passports along with the OCI cards for overseas Indians.
In May last year, the central government had allowed certain categories of OCI card holders, who were stranded abroad, to come to the country. Earlier, according to the regulations issued by the Indian government, visas of foreign nationals and OCI cards were suspended as part of the new international travel restrictions following the Covid-19 pandemic.
OCI cardholders were asked to carry their old passport with them to fly to India. Now, under the new provisions, OCI cardholders are not required to carry their old passports but will still need to carry their new passport.
With PTI inputs