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Overseas Citizens of India, stung by Home Ministry notification, plan to take battle to Supreme Court

The March 4 order asked professionals such as journalists, engineers and researchers to notify the Ministry about their activities in India.

The Home Ministry’s March 4 order that required professional Overseas Citizens of India (OCIs) such as journalists, engineers and researchers to notify the Ministry about their activities in India has left them in the lurch.

A portal that was to come up for the purpose is not operational yet. A Ministry official said it was delayed as several officials in the Ministry’s foreigners division tested positive for COVID-19 in the past month. A director rank official, A. Radharani, succumbed to the virus last week.

The official said the OCIs could intimate the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) through e-mail till the portal is activated.

Rajanna Sreedhara, president of Association of Resident OCI and Families (AROCIF), said that they were planning to challenge the Ministry’s notification in the Supreme Court as they believed it was discriminatory.

NRI quota seats

On March 4, the Ministry issued a gazette notification that OCI cardholders could claim “only NRI (Non-Resident Indian) quota seats” in educational institutions.

It specified that OCIs could only pursue the following professions — doctors, dentists, nurses and pharmacists, advocates, architects and chartered accountants, the rest would require “special permission”.

OCIs are of Indian origin but hold foreign passports. India does not allow dual citizenship but provides certain benefits under Section 7B(I) of the Citizenship Act, 1955 to the OCIs. So far, 37.72 lakh OCI Cards are said to have been issued.

The notification said that OCIs shall be required to obtain a “special permission or a special permit” from the competent authority or the FRRO or the Indian mission “to undertake research, missionary or Tabligh or mountaineering or journalistic activities or internship in any foreign diplomatic missions”.

“The notification does not mention IT professionals, a large number of OCIs are engineers; so will they have to apply for employment visa? It says permission required to conduct research…this will place undue burden on scientific, pharmaceutical, medical, biotechnology and other research fields,” he said.

“Even if an OCI student has secured a high rank in an exam like NEET [National Eligibility Entrance Test], several institutions of repute do not have NRI seats. The exorbitantly high fees under the NRI quota cannot be afforded by many OCIs as they live and work in India. India-domiciled OCI students are deprived of domicile status both in India [country of residence] as well as the country of their citizenship,” Dr. Sreedhara said.

Anjana Hulse, an OCI and Bangaluru resident, said her son secured All India Rank 2 in the Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojana examinations held by the government but could not secure admission in the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. “IISc does not have NRI seats and earlier it was admitting students on merit. Despite securing a high rank, my son cannot study there since he is an OCI. It is unfortunate that India does not recognise talent; we spent decades in foreign countries but came back, is this how our children will be treated,” she said.

Dr. Sreedhara said though they petitioned the Ministry, the notification had only left them further confused. “The notification equates India-domiciled OCIs with a foreigner…A foreigner can only have a Portfolio Investment Scheme investment account which is a special category of investment account approved and monitored by the Reserve Bank of India with several restrictions. It has to be funded by foreign currency remittance only. An India-domiciled OCI living and working in India may not have any foreign currency funding option at all and hence may not be able to hold an investment account,” he said.

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