The Ministry of Home Affairs issued the government's gazette notification on March 4, which imposes restrictions on Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) from practising journalism or research and engaging in Tabligh or missionary activities.
The notification issued had effectively granted legal sanction to what was previously just a series of guidelines in an official brochure.
During an informal briefing on Friday, the MHA said that the rights and restrictions set out in the notification were merely a "consolidated list" of its notifications released in 2005, 2007 and 2009 "with further clarifications".
However, the review of these notifications on the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) website reveals that they did not enforce any of these restrictions.
These limitations were first seen in an OCI brochure in November 2019. Tabligh activities were earlier also mentioned in 2018 in Indian visa guidelines.
According to the notification issued on Thursday, OCI cards holders should take prior approval of the 'Competent Agency' or the Regional Office for Foreigners (FRRO).
- To undertake research.
- To undertake any Missionary or Tabligh or Mountaineering or Journalistic activities.
- To undertake an internship in any foreign Diplomatic Missions or foreign Government organisations in India or to take up employment in any foreign Diplomatic Missions in India.
- To visit any place which falls within the Protected or Restricted or prohibited areas as notified by the Central Government or competent authority.
The rights notified include multiple entry visas for all purposes, FRRO exception for each period of stay, and domestic airfares and entrance fees for monuments and public places.
It is stated that OCI cardholders, along with Non-Resident Indians (NRIs), continue to appear in competitive exams, purchase or sell immovable property barring agricultural and farmhouses, and pursue professions like medicine, law, architecture and chartered accountancy.
In 2005, 2007 and 2009 notification, the above rights were also stated.
Besides restricting journalism, research and missionary activities, the latest notification allow the FRRO registration exemption if the cardholders communicate to the office by e-mail regarding changes in permanent residency address or occupation.
The notification enables OCIs to appear for all-India entrance tests such as National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), Joint Entrance Examination (Mains), Joint Entrance Examination (Advanced) or such other tests to allow them to be admitted to any NRI or supernumerary seat.
The "OCI cardholder shall not be eligible for admission against any seat reserved exclusively for Indian citizens", it states.
In the 2009 notification, OCIs were entitled to "appear for the All Indian Pre-Medical Examination or such tests to make them eligible for admission in pursuance of the provisions contained in the relevant Acts".
As per sources, this has led to litigation in various courts for which OCIs demanded similar rights to the Indian people to appear for competitive examinations and to be admitted to the leading universities, The Indian Express reported.
Last year in December, the Karnataka High Court had cited the 2009 notification, thus repealing a state government rule that treated OCIs like NRIs for university entry.
The Delhi High Court also repealed government orders in January 2019 to withdraw an OCI card of a US citizen because he was engaged in missionary activity. As per a Home Ministry official, due to such litigations, the ministry generated a booklet outlining OCI rights and restrictions in November 2019.
"A consolidated list of rights and restrictions with more clarifications were notified in the gazette on Thursday," the official said.