Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan on Sunday asked Overseas Citizen of India card-holders to not worry about the temporary suspension of their long-term visas and assured them the government will soon take an “appropriate decision,” PTI reported. He said that Prime Minister Modi, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Home Minister Amit Shah were personally aware of their problems and they have “no doubt whatsoever about the Indianness” of the Indian diaspora.
This came after the Centre temporarily suspended visas of foreign nationals and OCI cards, which allow people of Indian origin to travel without visas, as part of restrictions imposed to contain the coronavirus outbreak in the country. This has left a large population of the Indian diaspora stranded in the United States who are unable to travel to India, even for emergency reasons. The Indian diplomatic missions in the US issues the largest number of OCI cards.
New York-based community leader Prem Bhandari said the move created “multiple painful issues” for the OCI card holders in the US and also for Indian citizens with a Green Card or H-1B visas who want to travel back home, but cannot leave their children who are Americans by birth. “We would like to express our disappointment with the discrimination between OCIs and citizens in respect of entering India at this critical stage when many OCIs have lawfully built their homes, families and businesses in India,” Bhandari said in a letter to Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla on Monday.
“I understand the agony of the OCI card holders,” Muraleedharan said at a virtual panel discussion with Americans with Indian origin, jointly organised by the Federation of Indian Associations and the Bihar Jharkhand Association of North America. “Please do not have any ill will. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is aware of this and will take an appropriate decision soon.”
Muraleedharan urged the diaspora to invest in India given the opportunity being offered by the major economic reforms announced by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. “Perhaps, India has never had such an economic reform,” he said. “This is a great opportunity for the Indian diaspora to come and invest in India.”
Launched in 2005, the Overseas Citizen of India card permits foreign citizens of Indian origin to stay in India indefinitely without having to follow registration requirements. They are granted certain limited rights that the central government notifies from time to time. They get a lifelong multiple entry visa to India and are treated at par with Non-Resident Indians in accessing economic and educational opportunities in India. However, OCI card holders are not entitled to political rights in India. They are also not eligible to claim equality of opportunity for public employment under Article 16.