Airport Travel in Covid-19 Crisis

Travel Restrictions Preventing Several Indian Nationals from Returning to India

The Government of India issued a travel advisory on March 23, 2020 stating that no international commercial passenger aircraft would be allowed to land and disembark its passengers including Indian nationals in India. Therefore, Indian nationals abroad were unable to return to the country. This travel restriction was extended until April 14, 2020 and then until May 03, 2020. On May 02, 2020 the Government in continuation with the nation-wide lock-down until May 17, 2020 further extended this restriction until May 17, 2020. This restriction does not apply to international all-cargo operations and flights specifically approved by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.

To curb the spread of COVID-19, the Government of India has suspended all Indian visa services until May 17, 2020. Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholders in India are in valid status. However, OCI cardholders outside India cannot travel to India until May 17, 2020.

All existing visas to India other than diplomatic, official, UN/International Organizations, employment (and project) visas and who have not entered India remain suspended until May 17, 2020.

Thousands of Indians abroad whether those on work permits or students are stranded and unable to return to the country due to the temporary international travel ban.

On May 04, 2020, The Government announced that it would evacuate stranded Indians from 12 countries in a phased manner starting May 07, 2020. The stranded citizens are being brought back by aircrafts and naval ships which expense they must bear individually. The individuals must directly reach out to the concerned Indian Mission.

The Government of India through travel advisories and guidelines have stated that “any foreign national, including Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholders, who intend to travel to India for compelling reasons must contact the concerned Indian Mission for fresh visas.” Unfortunately, however, in practice we are seeing that this is not the case.

Several instances have come to light where Indian nationals on work permits abroad are unable to return to the country because their foreign-born children are being prevented from boarding the special repatriation flights despite holding Indian visas/OCI cards. Most of these Indian nationals who wish to return to India are those who have lost their jobs and must leave the country where they are currently residing within a stipulated period. Unfortunately, they are unable to board the special flights because their foreign-born children hold OCI cards/Indian visas.

Sadly, the reality of the situation as evidenced by the struggles of several Indian citizens is that while they long to return to their home country and have even secured tickets on the special flights, are unable to do so merely because their foreign-born children were denied tickets because they hold OCI cards/Indian visas.

– Ashwina Pinto

OCI Explained – What are the rights and privileges granted?

The Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) program is granted to foreign nationals of Indian origin to live and work in India.This program is not for individuals who are from Pakistan or Bangladesh.

The following individuals qualify for registration as an OCI[1]

  • A person who at any time held an Indian passport; or
  • A person whose either parent or grandparents or great grandparents was born in and was a permanent resident of India, provided neither was at any time a citizen of Pakistan or Bangladesh or any other country that may be specified by the Government from time to time; or
  • A person of foreign origin who is a spouse of a citizen of India/OCI cardholder and whose marriage has been registered and subsisted for a minimum period of two years.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has recently issued a notification to all the Foreigners Regional Registration Offices (FRROs) or Foreigners Registration Offices (FROs) stating that an OCI application can only be submitted in India once a foreign national has resided in India for a continuous period of six (6) months prior to submitting the application. This means an uninterrupted stay in India for an entire period of six (6) months. It is important to note that this is applicable only to OCI applications submitted in India.

Benefits of an OCI cardholder

  • Multiple entry, multi-purpose and a lifelong visa to visit and live in India. If the OCI card holder wishes to undertake research work in India, special permission to undertake such work must be granted by the Indian Mission/FRRO concerned. OCI cardholders are not entitled to undertake Missionary, Mountaineering and Journalism activities without prior permission of the Indian government. If the individual wishes to undertake such activities, prior permission from the Indian Mission/FRRO concerned is required;
  • Exempt from in-country FRRO/FRO registration requirements for any length of stay in India;
  • Receives equal rights with non-resident Indians (NRIs) in financial, economic and educational fields except in acquiring agricultural land or plantation properties;
  • Parity with NRIs with regard to pursuing professions such as doctors, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, advocates, architects and chartered accountants;
  • Parity with NRIs in the matter of inter-country adoption of Indian children.

The OCI program is not a replacement for dual citizenship but affords some rights to eligible individuals with an Indian heritage who are now citizens of different countries and also other persons of non-Indian origin/heritage provided they fulfill certain conditions.

Rajesh Khandekar (accessed on December 20, 2019)