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INDIA: Proposed Amendments to

One chamber of the Indian Parliament has proposed amendments to "Overseas Citizen of India" status. If passed into law, among other things, "Overseas Citizen of India" status will be known as "Overseas Indian Cardholder" instead.

The proposed amendments are being made to the Citizenship Act, 1955 (Act), which provides for the acquisition and determination of Indian citizenship, the procedure for registration as an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI), and renunciation and  termination of citizenship under certain circumstances. The Act has been amended occasionally relating to registration and renunciation of OCI status.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2013 (Bill) was passed by the Council of States of the Indian Parliament (the Rajya Sabha, or the Upper House) on August 13, 2013. It awaits approval of the House of the People of the Indian Parliament (Lok Sabha, or the Lower House) and presidential assent before it is enforced and the provisions are incorporated in the Act. The Bill has been introduced mainly to address shortfalls that were noticed during implementation of the Act and to review the provisions relating to OCIs.

The Bill proposes the following changes:

  • The Bill replaces the words "overseas citizen of India" with the words "overseas Indian cardholder" (OIC). An overseas Indian cardholder is defined as a person registered as an overseas Indian cardholder by the central government under section 7A.
  • The Bill enlarges the categories of persons eligible for OIC. It proposes to include (i) a great-grandchild of any person who was a citizen of India; (ii) a minor child of parents, both of whom are, or one of whom is, a citizen of India; and (iii) a spouse of an Indian citizen who has been married for at least two years before making the application for registration.
  • The Bill also sought an amendment to bring within the scope of citizenship a person "who is ordinarily a resident" instead of the person who has been residing in India for a specific period
  • The registration of the spouse of an Indian citizen will be canceled if (i) the marriage has been dissolved by a competent court; or (ii) during the subsistence of such marriage, the spouse has married any other person.
  • If a person renounces his or her overseas Indian card, his or her spouse and minor child will also cease to be an OIC.
  • The central government may relax the requirement of being a resident in India for 12 months as one of the qualifications for a certificate of naturalization. This period cannot be extended beyond a period of 30 days.

There is no certainty regarding the time frame within which the Bill will be brought into force. Although the purpose of the amendment seems to be to correct the lacunae in the Act, it has, in a way, demoted the status of an OCI from being an overseas "citizen" to a mere cardholder. Although an OCI has never had full privileges of Indian citizenship, such as the right to vote, when the law was initially passed, OCI status was thought to be a first step toward dual citizenship. Further, by bringing the spouse and the minor child within the ambit of an OIC and by making registration for them compulsory, the whole purpose of easy and fast implementation of the OCI process is defeated.

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