NRI woes on surrendering Indian passports

Many non-resident Indians (NRIs) say they are facing problems because of the formalities they now have to face while surrendering their Indian passports to acquire US citizenship.

“It is mind boggling how much paperwork they have added for someone born in India to revisit India,” lamented NRI Padma Golla from Houston, US. She was among scores of NRIs reacting to the report about India lowering the fee for surrender of Indian passports in early July.

Rules regarding surrender of Indian passports on attaining US citizenship, introduced by India’s Ministry of External Affairs in May 2010, were relaxed from June 1, 2011, after strong pressure by NRIs.

Indian consulates used to charge $175 as fee for the surrender of old Indian passports and additional penalties for various “violations”. The fee has now been reduced to just $20.

“I am being put in a difficult situation where I can’t get a visa while my kid has one and I can’t travel with my kid who just needed an American passport with an application for a visa,” Golla added.

Many Indian consulates still have no idea about the announcement.

The consulates in countries other than the US are not sure if this new ruling applied to NRIs with British and other passports. The websites of many consulates show the higher, outdated fees.

Kawal Gupta from Toronto had a similar problem. He wrote: “I heard on radio that the fees for surrender of Indian passport after obtaining the citizenship of other country has been reduced to $20 but when I called VFS (visa processing office), they said they have not heard of any such change and that I should submit my forms with the fees of $175.”

Till mid-July, the visa processing office insisted on charging a higher fee from Kawal who has four passports to cancel, which means paying about $700.

Sanjay Zala of Houston, Texas (US), who became a Canadian citizen in 2006, said Trasvisa Outsourcing, which handles visa requests from the United States, insists he pay a penalty of $250 because he did not surrender his Indian passport within a year.

He made representations to the Indian ministry of external affairs, ministry of overseas Indian affairs, senior officers and the Indian consulate in the US, but to no avail.

In his letter to the ministry, he wrote, “By paying penalty and Overseas Citizenship of India fees together, is the government of India really interested to increase the interest of NRIs and their investment in India?”

“And by imposing this penalty, is the government really doing a favour to NRIs to visit India and obtain Overseas Citizenship of India?” he asked.

“I have many thousands of names of the people who became foreign nationals before 2005 and kept their valid Indian passports for over three years. On renouncing their Indian citizenship, they did not pay any penalty,” Zala added.

“Why have the consular officers abroad not drawn any attention about this to the ministry of external affairs? Why is there a gross discrimination against those who became foreign nationals after 2005 with valid Indian passports?” he asked.

Zala has not received any replies.

Tilak Sen and Raamprasad in Britain found it difficult to convince the Indian consulates that British passport holders should also pay the lower penalty.

Clarence Gomes from Mississauga, Canada, wrote that the previous rule was that anyone who obtained citizenship before May 2010 had to pay only $20 to obtain a surrender certificate but those who obtained citizenship after May 2010 had to pay $175.

Gomes wrote, “There are many like me who obtained Canadian citizenship in March 2011, does it mean that I have to still pay $175 for the surrender of my Indian passport? If so, there is no change in the policy as I understand it. We will appreciate if the correct policy is confirmed as it is still not clear to many Indians who have recently been granted citizenship of another country.”

Gomes sent letters to the local TV stations, newspapers and the Indian consulate in Toronto and the ministries of external affairs and overseas Indian affairs but with no response. By Kul Bhushan