INDIAN Diaspora which numbers about 25 million is actively approached by Indian Ministers when seeking foreign policy support or foreign investments in India. A separate Ministry of Overseas Indians has also been created to look after the Diaspora but recently it was unnecessarily pin-pricked and annoyed by the UPA Government on the matter of renunciation of their Indian citizenship and surrender of their Indian passports.
It is natural duty of all Indian civil servants to ensure that Indian passports of those Indians who have acquired foreign nationality are not misused by them or somebody else. But it should be done with human face.
Indian Consul General, New York was quoted saying: “Passports of a number of persons who had taken foreign nationality were being used by persons other than the owners of those passports. Authorities in India found up to 50 people in a day travelling on other people’s passports and those invariably were people who had become foreign nationals.” (The Indian Express, North American Newsline, June 11, 2010).
What is hinted is that some former Indians try to get their relations and friends sneak into US and other developed countries on their passports bearing foreign visas. While serving as Director (CPV)and later as Joint Secretary (CPV) (1988-92) in the Ministry of External Affairs I was a member of the team which introduced more secured series of passports (MSP) making it easier for Indian immigration to detect such misuses. With the view to reduce work load of passport and consular offices renewal of passports after five years was done away with, and, passports with ten year validity were introduced; and, Indian Missions were authorised to issue visas valid up to five years validity as against then maximum of three months only.
In May 2010 the Government of India through its diplomatic missions advised the former Indian citizens to sign a Declaration renouncing their Indian citizenship (fees USD 175) and also to surrender their Indian passports within 90 days of acquiring foreign nationality with miscellaneous service charge of USD 20, and obtain ‘Renouncing and Surrender certificate’.
This rule is proposed to be enforced by not issuing consular services like issue of PIO/OIC cards, notary services, Indian visas etc to those former Indian citizens on their foreign passports who do not submit a copy of ‘surrender certificate’ with their consular service/visa applications if such a surrender stamp is not already there in their foreign passports.
Those who have lost or misplaced their last held Indian passports or have already surrendered their Indian passport to country of their adoption will have to complete certain paper requirements and thereafter they would be issued surrender certificate. They are required to furnish certified copies of (i) details of last held Indian passport (ii) official documents submitted to foreign/US Govt at time of seeking foreign/US citizenship or naturalisation and I-130 form (iii) Notarised letter explaining reason for loss and (iv) Police report for lost passport.
Production of above set of documents from (i) to (iv) may not be easy and may take months causing harassment and mental agony to those former Indian citizens who are in hurry to visit India for business, pilgrimage or to meet their relations in India for marriage, funeral or other occasions.
The Global Organisation of Persons of Indian Origin (GOPIO) and other associations of Indians settled abroad strongly objected feeling having been emotionally hurt and humiliated by terms like ‘surrender and renunciation of Indian passports and Indian citizenship,’ high fees and babugiri. On May 23, 2010 GOPIO started protest and within days more than 30,000 email protests were lodged with the Government of India. Threats of holding public demonstrations against Indian Missions in US were made by associations such as the Federation of Indian Associations, Tristate area etc.
In view of above protests marginal relaxation given is that ‘Indians’ who became naturalised in US upto May 31, 2010 will have to pay only USD 20 for getting ‘surrender of passport certificate.’ But those acquiring foreign nationality on or after June 1, 2010 fee will remain USD 175 for ‘Renunciation/Surrender certificate’.
For people who have a Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) Card or an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) Card, the requirement of a surrender certificate will not be insisted upon although they are expected to voluntarily do it, says a posting on Indian consulates.
The website of an Indian Consulate in USA reads: “All naturalised US citizens of Indian descent, who have already acquired foreign citizenship voluntarily in the past shall cease to be Indian citizens upon their acquiring foreign citizenship. However, such persons are required to renounce their Indian citizenship and to obtain surrender certificate for their Indian passports, whether valid or expired, so that the passport is not misused. If you have a ‘passport cancelled on acquisition of US(foreign) nationality’ stamp on your passport, there is no requirement of acquiring “surrender certificate”. For those persons of Indian origin who have already acquired foreign citizenship till May 31, 2010, the fee is $ 20. For those, who acquire foreign citizenship on or after June 1, 2010, the fee is $175″. It will take 15 days time to issue such certificates whether applied in person or through mail.
A fine legal point has been raised by Indian associations. Section 8 of the Indian Citizenship Act 1955 relates only to those cases where an Indian citizen has automatically got other nationality by virtue his birth (by descent, having parents with foreign nationality or by virtue of his birth in a foreign country) and he is called upon to make a declaration of renouncing Indian nationality if he wants to retain his foreign nationality. Section 8 prescribes registration of this renunciation declaration. Caption of this section is ‘Renunciation of citizenship’. Section 8(1) reads: “If any citizen of India of full age and capacity, who is also a citizen or national of another country, makes in the prescribed manner a declaration renouncing his Indian citizenship, the declaration shall be registered by the prescribed authority; and, upon such registration, that person shall cease to be a citizen of India.”
Caption of Section 9 of the Indian Citizenship Act 1955 is not renunciation but termination of citizenship. It covers those cases where an Indian citizen has acquired foreign nationality not by birth or descent but by naturalisation or registration. This section does not call upon to make a declaration of renouncing Indian citizenship. It reads: “9. Termination of citizenship. (1) Any citizen of India who by naturalisation, registration or otherwise voluntarily acquires, or has at any time between the January 26, 1950 and the commencement of this Act voluntarily acquired, the citizenship of another country shall, upon such acquisition or, as the case may be, such commencement, cease to be a citizen of India”
So the Indians who did not get US citizenship by descent but got it by naturalisation are not required by the ICA to file any declaration renouncing Indian citizenship. They need not file any declaration renouncing their Indian citizenship as law presumes that their Indian citizenship automatically got terminated on their acquiring foreign nationality.
Further under Indian jurisprudence if there is a special law covering a subject the special law or specific law shall prevail over other provisions. In other words as phrase naturalisation appears only in Section 9 and not in Section 8 so Section 8 shall not be applied to naturalisation cases. Therefore, legality of notifications calling upon ‘ex-Indians’ who have become naturalised citizens of other countries to file declarations renouncing their Indian citizenship should be got re-examined.
Many ex-Indians may like to keep their Indian passports for emotional reasons, for purposes of record, as documentary evidence of their visits to other countries, for tax purposes to calculate tax liabilities based on number of days spent in a country etc. So it is not desirable to force any one to surrender his Indian passport.
Now let us come to question of misuse of Indian passports held by ex-Indian citizens. Security concerns of Indian authorities on this account are valid and genuine.
In this computer era I would suggest three pronged approach (A) Indian Missions should contact their host governments and ask them to keep informing Indian Missions about those Indians who become naturalised citizens of host country, after all it is not classified information of host government, (B) periodically seek such information from willing local Indian Associations; (C) advise ex-Indian citizens to cut corners of their valid or expired last held Indian passport, make photocopies of first three pages, get each of these three pages attested by the President of a local Indian association so authorised by Indian Mission and submit the same to the Mission by e-mail as well as by registered post with fees of US$ 25. In case of lost passport a notarised application explaining loss should be submitted with fee of US$ 25. Mission will send them an acknowledgement of having received passport corner cut or loss intimation.
As soon as this information is fed into computer all immigration authorities in India would get updated. Such a course of action to a large extent would keep our Indian Diaspora as well as the Indian security authorities happy.