Everything You Should Know About Citizenship In India 

What is citizenship in India?  How to get an Indian citizenship? What are the differences between an OCI card and a PIO card? Read on to know everything you should know about citizenship in India.

When India won its independence, the Constitution framers had a unique challenge before them. India is a large country with diverse geographies, cultures, ethnic identities, religions and more.

India was conceptualized as a country where every citizen has the freedom to speak their own languages, follow their religion and regional culture and yet have equal protection under the law. The last census in 2011 noted the presence of 1,210.9 million Indian citizens. Let’s take a look at what it means to have citizenship in India.

CitizenshipAn Overview

Citizenship refers to the legal status of an individual with reference to the country they belong to. The terms citizenship and nationality are often used synonymously. To be a citizen of a country means that the individual can enjoy certain rights and privileges in exchange for obeying the country’s laws and prescribed duties.

Merely living in a country does not make a person a citizen of the country. You can be a citizen of one country and live in another. However, there are limitations to living in foreign countries as an ‘alien’. Some countries allow their citizens to hold dual citizenship, i.e., to be a citizen of multiple nations simultaneously. 

Citizenship In India – Top FAQs

Find below answers to frequently asked questions about Citizenship in India.

What is citizenship in India?

The Indian Constitution awards a single citizenship to all Indian nationals. Citizenship in India is governed by the Constitution and the Citizenship Act of 1955. The concept of Indian citizenship came into effect on 26 November 1949, along with the adoption of the Indian Constitution.
According to these provisions, any individual residing in the territory of India as on January 26, 1950 and who was either (i) born in India, or (ii) had at least one parent who was born in India, or (iii) had been living in India for at least 5 years before the Constitution came into being would be an Indian citizen. Indians living abroad who did not hold any other country’s citizenship and met one of the above criteria could also acquire citizenship of India.
Citizenship in India guarantees a citizen, certain basic freedoms as categorized in the form of 6 Fundamental Rights. The Constitution also enumerates certain Fundamental Duties that every Indian citizen must abide by when living inside or outside the country.
Indians living abroad may maintain their citizenship of India. Alternatively, they may give up their Indian citizenship and either choose to become an overseas citizen of India or acquire the citizenship of a foreign country.

How to get Indian Citizenship?

The Indian Citizenship Act came into being in 1955. This Act deals with the acquisition and termination of Indian citizenship as well as all associated legislatures.

The Citizenship Act India has been amended 4 times since its enactment through the Citizenship Amendment Act of 1986, the Citizenship Amendment Act of 1992, the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2003 and the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2005.
According to the Indian Citizenship Act, an individual can acquire a Citizenship Certificate India in the following ways:
1. Meeting the citizenship criteria at the time of the commencement of the Indian Constitution
2. Citizenship by birth

o   Being born in India between 26th January 1950 and 1st July 1987
o   Being born in India between 1st July 1987 and 3rd December 2004 with at least one parent as an Indian citizen
o   Being born in India after 3rd December 2004 to parents who are both Indian citizens
o   Being born in India after 3rd December 2004 with one parent as an Indian citizen and confirmation that the other is not considered an illegal migrant
o   This is not applicable to children of citizens of enemy countries and foreign diplomatic personnel.
3. Citizenship by descent
o   A person born abroad, between 26th January 1950 and 10th December 1992 can acquire citizenship in India, if at the time of their birth, their father holds an Indian citizenship by birth. 
o   A person born abroad, between 10th December 1992 and before 3rd  December 2003 can acquire Indian citizenship if, at the time of their birth, both their parents hold Indian citizenship by birth.
o   A person born after 3rd  December 2003 can acquire citizenship of India only once their birth is registered at an Indian consulate within 1 year of birth. In addition to the registration of birth, the parents must also declare that the minor does not hold a valid passport of any other country. Such registration of birth may also be done after the 1 year period, with the permission of the Central Government.
4. Citizenship by registration
o   A Person of Indian Origin, applying for Indian citizenship after living in the country for at least 7 years
o   Applying for Citizenship Certificate India as a person of Indian origin living abroad
o   Applying for Indian citizenship for children of Indian citizens. The application form will be different for minors and non-minors. 
o   A person registered as an Overseas Citizen of India for 5 years and residing in India for at least 12 months at the time of applying
5. Citizenship by naturalization
o   Any foreigner (not an illegal migrant) ordinarily residing in India for a period of 12 years (including 12 months immediately prior to the date of application and for a total of 11 years during the 14 year period prior to the application date) and fulfilling other qualifications mentioned in the Third Schedule of the Citizenship Act can apply.
6. Citizenship by incorporation of territory
o   Any individual who is a citizen of a territory that becomes a part of India will become a citizen of India from the date specified in the order notified by the Central government in the Official Gazette. For example, 14,864 people became Indian citizens after the ratification of an agreement between India and Bangladesh on 1st August 2015.
In addition to the above, the recent amendments to the Indian Citizenship Act grants eligibility for Indian citizenship to certain illegal migrants. However, since this amendment is challenged and under consideration of the Supreme Court of India, the provisions of the same will be updated once the matter is settled by the Court.

What are the rights of Citizens in India?

Anyone living in India has the right to elementary education, the freedom to practice and propagate their religion, practice a profession, and has equality before law and receives equal protection under the law.
In addition, becoming a citizen of India affords certain Citizenship Rights in India that cannot be enjoyed by non-citizens. For example, only citizens of India can vote in elections, apply for government jobs and get government benefits.
The fundamental Citizenship Rights in India available only to Indian citizens are:

1. Protection from being discriminated against on grounds of caste, religion, gender, race or place of birth.
2. Ensuring equal opportunity for public employment
3. Protection of 6 fundamental Rights
o   Right of speech and expression
o   Right to assemble without arms
o   Right to form unions and associations
o   Right to move freely in any part of India
o   Right to live anywhere in India
o   Right to practice their chosen occupation
4. Protection of minority’s culture, script and language
5. Right for minorities to establish and maintain educational institutions

What is termination of Indian Citizenship?

Termination of Indian citizenship means the loss or end of a person’s legal status a citizen of India. This results in the consequent loss of all the rights available to a person on account of their status as a citizen of India.

How does Indian citizenship get terminated?

There are 3 ways by which an individual can lose their Indian citizenship:
1. Renunciation: An Indian citizen can renounce his/ her citizenship when they become a citizen of another country. If a male citizen gives up his citizenship, his minor child/ children also cease to be citizens of India. However, the child may apply for Indian citizenship within one year of becoming an adult.
2. Termination through Acquisition of citizenship of another country: An Indian citizen who voluntarily or unknowingly becomes a citizen of another country terminates his/ her Indian citizenship.
3. Deprivation of citizenship in India: Indian citizenship of a person acquired other than by birth, can be terminated by the government of India in certain situations such as:
o   their citizenship was obtained by means of fraud, false representation or concealment of any material fact;
o   they exhibited disloyalty or hostility towards the Constitution of India;
o   they engaged in unlawful trade or communication with an enemy India is at war with or assisted such enemy;
o   they have been sentenced to imprisonment in any country for at least two years within five years of registration or naturalisation;
o   they have resided out of India for seven years continuously, without fulfilling any of the prescribed conditions for retaining the citizenship.

What is Overseas Citizen of India Cardholder (OCC)

India does not include provisions for dual citizenship, but persons residing outside India who would otherwise be eligible for Indian citizenship can be eligible to be an Overseas Citizen of India Cardholder (OCC).

This is a form of permanent residency and gives them certain additional rights in India. It is important to note though that OCC are not equivalent to Indian citizens and cannot vote, stand for public office, apply for government jobs, invest in farmland.

They must possess a valid foreign passport for the duration of their stay in India. OCC cannot apply for an Indian passport.

Who can be an Overseas Citizen of India Cardholder? 

With certain exceptions, the eligibility criteria to become overseas citizens of India cardholder are:
· A citizen of any country who was a citizen of India on or any time after 26th January 1950.
· A citizen of any country who originally belonged to a territory that became part of India after independence
· A citizen of any country who was eligible for Indian citizenship on 26th January 1950
· A minor child of parents who meet any of the above eligibility criteria
· A child, grandchild or great-grandchild of an individual who meets any of the above eligibility criteria
· A minor child with one or both parents as Indian citizens
· The spouse of an Indian citizen or Overseas citizen of India cardholder

How long does it take to get an OCI card?

Unless any adverse information is found that goes against the applicant, the decision to issue an OCI card is usually made within 120 days of applying.

How to register as an OCC?

Applications for an OCC can be submitted online at ociservices.gov.in along with a recent passport-sized photograph, an image of the applicant’s signature and supporting documents proving eligibility.

An application fee of Rs 15,000 for applications submitted in India and $275 for applications submitted abroad is payable.
OCI card holders who are 19 years old or younger must re-upload a copy of their current passport and passport photograph every time a new passport is issued. This is also applicable to OCI cardholders who are 50 years old and above. However, a new OCI card is not required.
OCI card holders who are between the ages of 20 and 49 years must get their OCI card reissued the first time a new passport is issued after the age of 20 years.

As per the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2015 all PIO card holders are deemed to be OCC with effect from 9th January 2016.

What are the benefits of an OCI card?

Some of the benefits of holding an OCI card as a foreign national are:
· Multiple-entry lifelong visa-free entry to India
· No need to register with the Foreigners Regional Registration Officer when visiting India unless there is a change in occupation or permanent home address
· Parity with Indian citizens for admission fees to Indian tourist sites and domestic airfares
· Parity with Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) for most educational entrance tests, adoption, purchase or sale of immovable property and practice of certain professions.

Who is a person of Indian Origin (PIO)?

Until 2015, there was a second option for foreigners with roots in India. Foreigners who are citizens of almost any other country could get a PIO card to avail of benefits such as parity with NRIs in certain fields and fuss-free visits to India.
Application for a PIO card could be made by any foreigner who was a citizen of any country (other than Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, China, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Iran);
1. who once held an Indian passport, or
2. with parents/ grandparents/ great grandparents were born in India and were permanent residents of India and not of any of the countries listed above or
3. who are married to an Indian citizen/ PIO cardholder

Is the PIO card scheme still valid?

The central government has withdrawn the PIO card scheme by Gazette Notification No. 25024/9/2014 F.I dated January 09, 2015. All PIO card holders will be deemed to be OCI card holders according to Gazette Notification No 26011/01/2014IC.I dated 09.01.2015.

What are the benefits of PIO card?

Since the PIO card scheme is discontinued by the Government of India, there are no specific benefits to holding one. Therefore, the government has recommended all PIO card holders to apply for OCI card. The PIO card holders only need to submit their PIO card as well the a valid passport for conversion to an OCI card. The timeline for conversion of PIO card to an OCI card has been extended to December 2023.

What is difference between PIO and OCI? 

Since the PIO card scheme has been discontinued from 2015, all PIO card holders are deemed to be OCI cardholders. Hence, currently there is no scope for comparison between the two.

What are the different modes of getting citizenship in India?

Indian citizenship can be availed through birth, descent, registration, naturalization or incorporation of territory.

How soon after birth must a child born abroad be registered for Indian citizenship?

Children born abroad to Indian citizens must be registered within 1 year on indiancitizenshiponline.nic.in to avail of citizenship.

Does India allow dual citizenship?

The Indian Citizenship Act does not allow dual citizenship. This means an individual cannot be an Indian citizen as well as citizen of any other country. They can live abroad as Indian citizens or give up their Indian citizenship to become a citizen of another country.

Can an Indian who has renounced Indian citizenship later regain it?

Yes, an Indian who has given up Indian citizenship can later apply to regain Indian citizenship.

How to check the Indian Citizenship status?

Anyone applying for Indian citizenship can check the status of their application online at http://indiancitizenshiponline.nic.in. Applicants are also intimated about changes to their status through SMS and email.

Do OCI cardholders get a separate passport?

No OCI cardholders do not get a separate passport.

Can OCI cardholders buy property in India?

OCI cardholders can buy residential and commercial property in India. However, they cannot buy agricultural property.

What documents are proof of Indian citizenship?

Indian citizenship can be proved through certificates such as an Indian passport or a birth certificate. Section 13 of the Indian Citizenship Act also provides for issuance of a certificate of citizenship as proof of Indian citizenship.

Source: https://knowindia.india.gov.in/

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Shruti is a regular contributor to The Current India. Along with writing she enjoys traveling and discovering India's hidden cultural treasures.

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