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, according to a government notification that has been welcomed by members of the community.
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 a 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 card holders, it has been decided that the “time line for re-issuance of OCI cards in r/o OCI card holders, who may be required to get their OCI card reissued has been extended until December 31, 2021.”
Further “requirement of carrying old passports along with the OCI card has been done away. Henceforth, the OCI card holders 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.”
New York-based social activist Prem Bhandari, who has been taking up the cause of OCI card holders 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 card holders to carry their old, expired foreign passports.
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.
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 lifelong visa to India, those below 20 and above 50 need to renew their OCI card every time they have their passport renewed.
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.
Bhandari said the Ministry of Home Affairs guidelines for OCI card holders to carry old expired foreign passports had been in place since 2005 but till 2019, it was not being thoroughly checked or applied.