People of Indian origin and Indian diaspora having overseas citizens of India (OCI) cardholders are now not required to carry their old, expired passports for travel to India, according to the latest statement issued.
“The requirement of carrying old and new passports, along with the OCI card, has been done away with,” the Indian embassy said on its website on Monday, referring to a notification issued in this regard by the Centre, addressing one of the major concerns of overseas Indians.
“Henceforth, an OCI cardholder traveling on the strength of an existing OCI card bearing an old passport number is not required to carry the old passport. However, carrying the new (current) passport is mandatory,” the embassy said.
The 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, entering government service, and buying agricultural land. The cardholders can also have a visa-free travel to India.
Under the provisions of the OCI card, which gives the cardholder a lifelong visa to India, those below 20 years and above 50 years need to renew their OCI card every time they have their passport renewed. According to the Indian embassy, the government has also decided to grant further extension of time till December 31, 2021, to get the OCI cards reissued for those below the age of 20 years and above 50 years.
The Indian government has relaxed the second provisions since last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The timeline has been extended multiple times so far. However, this is for the first time that the guidelines have been relaxed for carrying old passports and the new passports along with the OCI cards for overseas Indians.
This has caused a lot of inconvenience among the Indian diaspora as normally the old passport is discarded after the issue of new ones. But the old OCI rules desired that the overseas Indians carry the old passport as well along with the new passports and the OCI card.
According to New York-based social activist Prem Bhandari, who has been taking up the case of OCI cardholders for the past several years, he had witnessed first-hand the inconvenience caused to members of the Indian diaspora due to certain OCI card rules as they undertook to travel to India during the pandemic. 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.
Bhandari had previously requested Indian authorities to initiate measures such as granting emergency visas on departure to help Indian-origin families travel to their homeland for health or other emergencies amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Also, he had suggested that holders of Indian passport/PIO/OCI card be allowed to travel with their US-born minor children, under 14, with any unexpired visa obtained anytime without applying for an emergency visa at consulates.
Furthermore, to make it easier and hassle-free for the OCI cardholders, he had requested to consider either granting an emergency visa on departure (E-VoD) or restoring the immediate e-Visa process for approval online.
In October 2020, the Indian government had decided to restore, with immediate effect, the validity of all existing visas, except electronic, tourist and medical category visas in view of the coronavirus pandemic.