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THE GOVERNMENT’S decision to get tough on business visas for foreigners has vastly improved the employability prospects of thousands of Indian-origin people settled overseas and triggered a surge in applications for the overseas citizenship of India (OCI) scheme.

   Until recently, the Indian government followed a liberal policy of allowing a large number of occupations and employees of companies to come to and work with business visas. But with the new rules, the simpler business visa is restricted to a much smaller number of people who can come to India to explore possibilities of setting up businesses. The employment visa is mandatory for skilled and qualified foreigners who come to India for employment.

   Multinational companies are finding it simpler to hire these so-called OCI cardholders, who enjoy a multiple entry, multipurpose life long visa to visit India. The card provides a lifelong visa to the holder, sparing them the need to obtain separate work permits. For these cardholders, the OCI is also not just about an emotional connect to their country of origin, it makes eminent business sense too. Especially for erstwhile Indian nationals living in the west.

   Predictably, Indian missions overseas are witnessing a deluge in OCI applications — the number of OCI cards issued by consulates around the world has risen to 501,339 in the second week of November 2009 from around 350,000 issued in January this year. Several Indian consulates are grappling with a huge backlog of applications.

   “The countries from where we have the maximum demand include the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand,” a senior official of the ministry of overseas Indian affairs said. According to a recent report by the Washington DC-based Migration Policy Institute, 43% of the OCI cards were issued through Indian consulates in the US and 13% in the UK.

   Launched in 2005, the OCI is the closest to any form of dual citizenship permitted by India. Persons of Indian Origin (PIO), who migrated from India and acquired citizenship of a foreign country other than Pakistan and Bangladesh, are eligible for grant of OCI as long as their home countries allow dual citizenship in some form or the other.

   OCI holders are treated on par with NRIs for economic, financial and educational matters and only don’t have political rights and rights to buy agricultural and plantation properties. They are also exempt from registration with the Foreigners Regional Registration Officer (FRRO) on their arrival in the country.

Set to gain further traction

IMMIGRATION and tax experts feel that the OCI card could gain further traction and prominence as companies that need to send staff members to India tap into their available pool of people of Indian origin. “A MNC employee holding the OCI card could be a better choice to deliver services in India,” says Kuldip Kumar, executive director for tax and regulatory services at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

KPMG executive director Vikas Vasal agreed, saying India’s growing importance as an economic destination could boost the allure of the OCI status.

Employment consultants say companies with large operations in India are looking at their human resources pool to find OCI cardholders for key positions in India. “This will definitely create more opportunities for the pool of people of Indian origin within such companies. In fact, even when hiring new people, many of these MNCs will now look for PIOs with the available set of skills,” says Rajesh Srinivasan, partner at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu.

   With various global players looking at scaling up business operations in India, it is often becoming necessary to quickly deploy highly skilled resources in the country. “OCI cardholders can travel at very short notice and take up assignments in India, while others could get caught up in bureaucratic delays over their employment visa. I know of many companies that are following an active policy of moving PIOs to India for business expansion,” says Mumbai based immigration lawyer Poorvi Chothani.

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