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Dual Nationality - A Three-tier Structure for Indians Abroad?

 

By Subroto Mukherjee

 

The Indian government has set no time-table yet for introduction of dual nationality. It will be implemented “in a timely manner,” is all that Minister for External Affairs Jaswant Singh said.


Jaswant Singh

 

A large number of NRIs fear that the new proposals for dual nationality will create a three-tier structure of Indians living abroad.

The selection of countries whose residents can claim dual nationality is not discriminatory in itself. In most cases it is the country of residence that will not allow dual nationality even if the Indian government does.

Dr L.M. Singhvi, Chairman of the committee that made the recommendations made it clear at the launch of the report that the “strongest demand came only from those countries that have provided the framework for dual citizenship.” Indians in other countries will be offered Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) cards with 20 years validity.

The PIO card will mean they will not require visas for entry into India. The PIO scheme was introduced several years ago. But priced at$1,000 a card, it has found few takers.

Despite the compulsions of the countries of residence that do not allow dual nationality, the scheme will in effect create three bands of Indian citizens abroad, immigration lawyers here say. One, those for example living in the US or Britain with American or British nationality who could also claim Indian nationality, two, Indians living in the Gulf, for example, who have only Indian nationality, and three, Indians with the nationality of countries of residence that do not allow dual nationality.

The differences are causing some heartburn already. “Does the Indian government mean to say that I am less an Indian just because I live-in South Africa and not in Britain or the United States,” asks Hitesh Parmar, motor mechanic in Durban. Parmar is currently visiting relatives in London.

“The Indian government is forgetting that many of us living in Africa maintain Indian traditions and culture much more than many Indians living in the West,” he said. “Suddenly now it has been decided that India will own them but disown me.”

Shantoo Ruparell, a leading solicitor dealing with NRI issues and NRI finance says the list of countries has been picked with an eye on investment power. “But it is not people only in these countries who are contributing money,” he said.

Hopes of massive inflow of investment following introduction of dual nationality might be overblown, Ruparell said. “I don’t see any significant increase in NRI money coming into India as a result of this,” he said.

The Indian government has set no time-table yet for introduction of dual nationality. It will be implemented “in a timely manner," is all that Minister for External Affairs Jaswant Singh said.

Ranjit Singh who heads an immigration company in London said, "this should be offered by the Indian government to Indians everywhere.” If the countries of residence do not allow it, “then that means it will not be available to people in those countries.”  But Indians everywhere need a message that it isn't the Indian government barring them, he said.

“An Indian is an Indian wherever he or she is,” said Ruparell. “If they satisfy the conditions set by India for people in other countries, they should be offered it.”

The scheme will have to be introduced with some element of discretion in it, Ruparell said. “If the credentials are good, then it should be offered to Indians in any country,” he said. “If not, it should not be offered to people in Britain, the US and Canada either.”

Dual nationality will not necessarily lead to more investment, a manager with an international pension fund said. “An industrialist might just find that he can get better facilities if he wants to go in with a British passport,” he said.