New Delhi: Reaching out to the Indian
diaspora, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday announced a
special facility to enable them life-long visa-free entry into
the country and participation in business and other activities
Singh said the government had decided to merge the
Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) and the Persons of Indian
Origin (PIO) cards into a single facility.
Addressing a gathering of Indian diaspora here, he
pointed out that the Government had introduced the OCI and PIO
cards to facilitate visa-free travel of NRIs and Indian Origin
people to India as well as to provide them rights of residency
and participation in business and educational activities.
"We have reviewed the functioning of these schemes, and
have decided to merge the OCI and PIO cards into a single
facility. We hope to iron out some of the problems that have
arisen in the implementation of these schemes," he said.
Later, Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi
said government will only issue Overseas Citizen of India card
which will be a kind of life-long visa.
"We have to finalise the nitty gritty. But it has been
decided that it will be OCI card and holder of the card will
have life-long visa free entry into the country," he said.
PIO cards are given to Indians who have migrated
permanently to other countries over centuries in a bid to
encourage them to visit and invest in the country of origin.
A PIO card holder does not require a visa to visit India
and the card is valid for 15 years. A PIO card holder enjoys
several economic and educational benefits.
On the other hand, the OCI card is a kind of lifelong
visa and any India origin person can apply for it if his host
country allows dual citizenship.
Talking about the Indians who emigrate for work, Singh
said their welfare is "a matter of special concern for us".
To improve the conditions for migration, India has signed
Social Security Agreements with 12 countries and finalised
Labour Mobility Partnerships with two others, he said, adding
a generic arrangement is also being negotiated with the
European Union also.
"As a further measure, we have now extended the facility
of the Indian Community Welfare Fund to all Indian Missions,"
he said. At present, such funds are available in 42 Missions.
Singh said the government has decided to establish new
Indian cultural centres in the US, Canada, Saudi Arabia,
France and Australia.
"I urge the Indian communities in these countries to
support and patronise these centres so that they become
effective instruments for projecting the diversity and
splendour of Indian culture," the Prime Minister said.