NRIs welcome rule relaxation for surrendering passports (NRI Watch USA)

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

Indian consulates charged US$175 as fee for the surrender of old Indian passports and additional penalties for various “violations”. Now the fee is reduced to just $20.

The Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO International) welcomed this step in a statement received in New Delhi. GOPIO had expressed strong objections and collected over 30,000 petitions and sent its objections with the petitions to the Prime Minister of India.

A statement issued by GOPIO chairman Inder Singh said, “Nevertheless, the removal of burdensome procedures and fees on Indians who became citizens of other countries was not addressed in a coherent, consistent and equitable way. As a result, during the last one year alone, there have been demonstrations, hunger strikes and thousands of emails to the Indian consulates, GOPIO and the government of India, and yet the issue never got the full attention of the government of India for a comprehensive solution as promised.”

In January, 2011, a GOPIO delegation presented a memorandum to the Ministry of External Affairs and again explained the hardships and delays people have been experiencing in obtaining visa for visiting India and how such bureaucratic procedures are consequently alienating NRI/PIO communities. In particular, GOPIO wanted that the surrender certificate requirement should not be enforced in case of people who had obtained foreign citizenship more than 10 years ago as the Indian passport anyway loses its validity after 10 years.

On Jan 6, 2011, GOPIO held a conference session on this subject at its annual convention in New Delhi. A high ranking representative of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) attended and the MEA became more aware of the continuing problem. In May 2011, a high-level delegation from the MEA visited the US to look into complaints of the people regarding visa issue. GOPIO met the delegation and presented another memorandum which included several demands included in the GOPIO’s Jan 6, 2011, memorandum.

It is heartening to know that two of the demands in the GOPIO memorandum have been accepted and have been implemented by the MEA with directives to all Indian high commissions and consulates, said the statement.

That is: (1) Elimination of surrender certificate from those who became naturalized citizens more than 10 years ago, and (2) An OCI (Overseas Citizenship of India) application need not be accompanied by an original US passport.

The MEA has issued a circular to all Indian Missions/Posts that says, “(i) Registration of surrender certificate: Since visa and other applicants (for consular services) of Indian origin are being put to discomfort by the request for surrender certificate every time they seek a service, all Missions/Posts have been advised to register the surrender certificate, electronically or otherwise, at the first occasion it is presented. Such a record will ensure that PIOs will no longer be required to produce the certificate on every occasion of approaching the Mission/Post for consular assistance.

(ii) ‘Deemed surrender’ cases: In order to deal with instances where a Person of Indian Origin was in possession of an Indian passport that expired more than 10 years ago, and where in the intervening period, he/she has acquired foreign citizenship, all Missions/Posts have been advised to treat such cases as ‘Deemed surrender.’ On the production of documents showing the acquisition of foreign nationality more than 10 years ago, such persons will be issued ‘deemed surrender’ certificates, without causing the additional burden of producing passports which may not be in the possession of the Person of Indian Origin.”

“We compliment the MEA high level delegation in accepting some of GOPIO’s recommendations and the MEA issuing the directives accordingly. The elimination of surrender certificate requirement from people who have obtained foreign citizenship more than 10 years ago will not only stop the decline of goodwill in the Indian community for the government of India but can also reduce workload at the consulates,” said Inder Singh.

“Now that the work load will be less, Indian missions in western countries and Travisa should finish off all the backlogs soon and make the process of getting an OCI card and entry visa to India easier for the Indian community,” said Dr. Thomas Abraham, former chairman of GOPIO International, who has been involved in this issue from the beginning.

“Finally, MEA has taken some steps to remove the difficulties faced by many who became citizens of other countries and are desirous of visiting India or applying for OCI cards. This is a welcome action that removes an undue burden on former citizens of India and improves goodwill towards India”, said Ashook Ramsaran, Executive Vice President of GOPIO International. By Kul Bhushan