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OCI Card: Life-long visa or eternal harassment? (Trisanku)

Published on 18 January, 2020
OCI Card: Life-long visa or eternal harassment? (Trisanku)

The Government of India started the Overseas Citizenship of India Card (OCI Card) program with good intentions to help the Indian community in foreign countries. But it has become an official instrument to harass the people. This is not surprising considering the role of the bureaucracy in India, which often works to create problems for people rather than helping them find solutions.

It is easier to get a green card or passport in the US than an OCI Card. The same is true with the process of re-issuing the OCI Card. Note the language: it is not renewing, but reissuing! Why? For re-issue, you have to go through almost the same process as applying for a new OCI Card.

The current problems started with a few airlines in New York, refusing to issue boarding passes to some passengers who had lacked a re-issued OCI Card. They cited regulations for the OCI to justify this. The problem soon spread to Europe and Australia.

People who travel from faraway places were turned away at airports a few hours before the departure of their flights. In many cases, some family members were allowed to fly while others were denied entry. One can imagine the suffering of the people.

The rules say that one should get the OCI card re-issued each time you get a new passport till the age of 20. From 20 to 50 there is no need to re-issue it. When you cross 50, you should get the OCI re-issued once when you get a new passport. Thereafter, there is no need of a reissue.

A few problems show up here. If one got an OCI Card at the age of 19 or 49 respectively, you have to renew it when you get a new passport. In that case, you get a new passport at the age of 29, or 59, which is when you need to get a OCI Card re-issued.

The first question is, how many people can remember this? It would have been easier if the rules said that one should get OCI reissued when one crosses 20 or 50. The current OCI rules only engender confusion. Why cannot the officials use simple, straightforward language?

It is irrational to re-issue a ‘life-long’ visa. Instead, they could have dispensed with the ‘life-long’ and put an expiry date for the card, (not the OCI status) just as in the case of the Green Card in the US.

If it is a life-long visa, what is the need for renewal or re-issue? In America we become citizens and the naturalization certificate remains the same all the time. Only the passport changes every 10 years.

If renewal is necessary for whatever reason, it could easily be implemented without nesting it in a set of bewildering rules.

For example, the immigration officer in India can mention the need for renewal when we reach the immigration counter there. Or he himself can renew it, checking the document against both the old and new passports. It is unlikely for anyone to tamper with their US passport.

This is a result of the official mindset in India. According to it, people are cheats till they prove otherwise – with lots of paper work! In America, officials take the word of the people till it is proven to be false. Lying or giving false testimony has many legal consequences.

In last October, this writer went to India with his wife, who got the OCI card at the age of 48, and his daughter who got it when she was 18. Both got new passports recently. We did not realize the need to re-issue the OCI Cards, till the last minute. Fearful of being turned away, we approached the Air India counter. We were lucky. There were no problems, no questions. Everything went smoothly. The same was true in India, too.

But we heard many others were not as lucky with other airlines. Air India also changed its policy later.

After reports of people being turned away from the check-in counter, the writer decided to get his wife and daughter’s OCI cards reissued.

Oh my God! Navigating the website was an unforgettable experience, thanks to both the technical people who created it, and the officials who cleared it for use. There was no mention of the application fee. The application was a problem every step of the way. After failing four times, I sent an email to Cox and Kings Global Service, which processes the information. They sent the standard reply that all information is available on their site. Where??

Then I called them and they helpfully suggested that I try yet again afresh. There was no way to complete a partially filled application. I started to fill up the application form for the fifth time.

To my luck, I reached the stage where I had to upload the photo and the photo of the signature. The photographs stubbornly refused to upload. After several attempts, I gave up. The next day, I girded my loins and I tried again.

Hurrah. It went through this time! Why now? No idea.

Trisanku is fairly computer literate. But the process must be a nightmare for those who do not know the complexities involves like scanning photos or resizing it.

Anyhow, I filled up the two parts in the government site of https://ociservices.gov.in/. But there was no mention of what I would have to do next. The CKGS site also provided no clues about the next step.

I had assumed CKGS has access to the applications made at the ociservices.gov.in/ site.

So I called CKGS again, and got through to a representative after a few attempts. The person asked to fill up the application on the CKGS site also. That was hardly much easier, but I did it.

While conducting the procedure, I noticed that the language on both sites was convoluted and hard to understand. I wondered why the India government and the CKGS could not have instructions in all major languages in India? It needs to be translated just once.

Even in America, we have access to Indian languages in several government programs.

Later, I printed the application from OCI services page and sent it by Fedex using the forms printed from CKGS. I put in the two passport photos, a money order for $75 and the old OCI Card.

I heard some people mention about attesting an affidavit. I did not do it. What is the need to attest a copy of a US passport? Who will tamper with it, given that it is a major crime in the US?

I dodged that bullet, too. Things were very, very, smooth thereafter. I got text messages about the progress of the application and in a few days I got the re-issued OCI Cards in Fedex. Thank you all!

More than two million people hold OCI Cards now. This means, the government of India had made a billion dollars in application fees! Yet they will not make the process customer-friendly.

It is time for the Indians here, especially those of the second generation, to rethink of the use of OCI cards. If they are eligible to get a visa on arrival why go through the onerous and expensive process of getting an OCI Card?

Of course, the first generation, who has property and close relatives in India, have no option.

The OCI Card program had a troubled start, with cardholders being turned away at airports or deported from India for not carrying a passport with a ‘U visa’ printed on it. After much protest, the rule was revoked and the OCI Card alone was deemed sufficient. 

Then came the recent problem of re-issue. After a hue and cry from the community, especially from Keralites in the US, India’s home ministry allowed people to use their OCI card along with the old passport and new passport till June this year. The ministry also advised people to renew their OCI card in the meantime.

But still people face problems at the airport, especially if they forgot the old passports.

Thomas T Oommen, a longtime activist in New York, has suggested that the India government stop printing the passport number on the OCI Card, to ensure continued validity when a new passport is issued.

The OCI card has also lost much of its powers in recent years. The program was started with a promise that cardholders would be treated at par with Non Resident Indians (who are Indian citizens) in all but three things: They would not be allowed to contest election, vote or hold government office, or buy agricultural land. 

Now the government added new provisions. Cardholders cannot do missionary work, journalism, or mountaineering, without special permission.

A few questions here. How does one define missionary work? Is attending a Christian church service, speaking to a Christian gathering, or being a medical doctor practicing for free at a Christian-owned hospital amount to missionary work?

That last point is not a hypothetical, since last year the Houston consulate revoked the OCI Card of a doctor for practicing at a Christian hospital in India, describing it as missionary work. He challenged it in the Delhi High Court, which struck down the order.

Those who added this provision forgets that Hindu sanyasins, human ‘gods’ and others freely come to the US to do whatever they want.

How does one define journalism again? Is it writing, photography or film making? India is an open society. What is there to hide?

As for the restrictions about mountaineering…. Frankly, Trisanku is baffled by that. 

Sudhir Panikkaveetil 2020-01-18 15:59:42
"This is a result of the official mindset in India. According to it, people are cheats till they prove otherwise – with lots of paper work! In America, officials take the word of the people till it is proven to be false." Mr. Trisanku your observation is right. India should remove the national motto display :sathymeva jayathe" and replace it with "Only documents triumphs".
Abraham 2020-01-18 22:38:47
OCI is issued as a life long visa. So there should be no need for any renewal or reissue as long as the original passport and current valid passport are used for identification. If there is any name change, may be it should ask for change of name on the OCI. Nothing more should be needed. What are all the Indian Organizations doing for us? They just want their names and photos published everywhere.
Thommichen 2020-01-21 17:21:16
ഒസിഐ കാർഡിൻറെ പേരു പറഞ്ഞു കുറെ ഓഞ്ഞ മോന്തായങ്ങൾ പേപ്പറിൽ കാണാം. അല്ലാതെ ഒരു അസ്സോസിയേഷനും ഒന്നും ചെയ്യാൻ പോന്നില്ല മിസ്റ്റർ എബ്രഹാം.
Abraham 2020-01-21 19:53:04
അപ്പോൾ നമ്മൾ എന്തു ചെയ്യണം . 50 വയസ്സ് കഴിഞ്ഞു മാത്രം OCI എടുത്താൽ മതി എന്നു എല്ലാവരും തീരുമാനിക്കുക . അതിനു മുൻപ് യാത്ര ചെയ്യേണ്ടവർ 10 വർഷത്തേക്കുള്ള വിസ എടുത്ത് യാത്ര ചെയ്യുക.
ത്രിശങ്കു സ്വർഗ്ഗത്തിൽ 2020-01-21 21:23:50
വീണ്ടും വീണ്ടും തല്ലു കൊള്ളിക്കുവാൻ ഇറങ്ങി വരുന്നവൻ ഇവൻ ആരെടാ? നാൾ ഒട്ടേറെയായി ഞങ്ങളെ മോഹിപ്പിച്ചും പറ്റിച്ചും കറങ്ങുന്നു നീ ഈ -മലയാളിയിൽ നിന്നെ ചുറ്റിപ്പറ്റി ചിലർ മുതലെടുക്കുന്നു നിന്റെ പേരാണോ ഓ.സി.ഐ കാർഡ്‌ . നീ എന്ന് കാലുവച്ച് കേറിയോ അന്ന് തൊട്ടു ഞങ്ങൾക്ക് പ്രശനമാ നേരെ ചൊവ്വിനെ ഒരു കാര്യം ചെയ്യുവാൻ എന്നാണ് ഇന്ത്യ പഠിക്കുന്നത് ? ഓസിഐ കാർഡുമായി ആർക്കറിയാം എന്നാണ് ഞാൻ ത്രിശങ്കു സ്വർഗ്ഗത്തിൽ കുടുങ്ങുന്നതെന്ന് എല്ലാം ദുർവിധി
മലയാളത്തില്‍ ടൈപ്പ് ചെയ്യാന്‍ ഇവിടെ ക്ലിക്ക് ചെയ്യുക