Washington: Overseas Citizen of India card holders are facing major problems while travelling to the country because adequate awareness has not been created among the diaspora about recent enforcement of a rule on renewal, a prominent Indian-American has said in a petition to the Indian Ambassador. As a result, a large number of Indian-Americans are being forced to cancel their trips to India.
In many cases they have been forced to return mid-way from places like Dubai and several airlines are refusing to board passengers on flight to India whose passport numbers do not match with the ones on their OCI card, said Prem Bhandari, chairman of Jaipur Foot USA. “Airlines and immigration officials cite a recent advisory issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Civil Aviation and demand that passengers below 20 years of age and above 50 years of age need to have their OCI cards renewed after renewal of their passports. This has resulted in many passengers being turned back from the airports,” Bhandari said.
Bhandari, a social activist, in a meeting urged Indian Ambassador to the US, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, to help in resolution of this issue through a mix of public information and awareness campaigns in the USA while getting the OCI cards rules simplified from the Ministry of Home Affairs. “The purpose of OCI card inter alia was to ease the travel experience of holders and not to cause avoidable anxiety and distress,” he said, adding that in his next India visit he plans to raise the matter with the Ministry of Civil Aviation so that airlines could be suitably briefed. According to Bhandari, the ambassador said that the Indian government is committed to welfare of the diaspora. The Indian diplomatic missions in the US have already launched an awareness campaign, Shringla said. A resolution of the issue is being actively pursued, he said.
In a statement, Bhandari said he also raised this matter with Pradeep Singh Kharola, Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation. “While the issue is being fixed, I request Ministry of Home Affairs to adequately brief international airlines so that members of Indian diaspora traveling to India are not harassed at the airports,” Bhandari said. OCI, a major facility for members of the Indian diaspora, brings them at par with non-Resident Indians in financial, economic and educational fields except in the acquisition of agricultural or plantation properties. It gives them free multiple entry, multi-purpose life-long visa to visit India. OCI card holders are also exempted from reporting to police authorities for any length of stay in India.
However, under the existing rules, OCI card holders below the age of 20 years and above the age of 50 years need to have their OCI cards renewed after renewal of their passports. While this rule has been there for long, it’s not known to a majority of the members of the Indian diaspora mainly because of the lack of awareness. Recently the Indian Government sought to strictly enforce this rule, causing discomfort to a large number of Indian-Americans. Many of the Indian Americans who have been held at airports or forced to return have expressed unawareness about this provision of the OCI cards.
“There is a need for a massive awareness campaign. A line in each of the OCI card mentioning this provision would be very help in creating awareness,” Bhandari said. “The Indian government already has contact details including email and phone numbers of each of the OCI card holder. It would be helpful, if the government reached out them on an urgent basis on this issue,” he said. “In fact, the age for mandatory renewable of OCI card should be below 18 years and above 70 years,” Bhandari demanded.