Given the pandemic conditions, several foreign nationals have been in India for a continuous period of twelve months. Some foreign nationals could be eligible to register or naturalize as a citizen of India and this is a good time to apply as the twelve months continuous stay is a pre-requisite with very limited flexibility.
In this article we provide information about Indian citizenship with a focus on citizenship through registration or naturalization. As a case study, we also include an outline of the process when related to the renunciation of U.S Citizenship.
Acquisition of Indian Citizenship
Indian citizenship may be acquired by birth, descent, registration or naturalization as set out in The Citizenship Act, 1955 of India.
Citizenship by Registration
Individuals who meet one of the criteria (among others), listed below, may apply to the Central Government of India to register as a citizen of India:
- a person of Indian origin who is ordinarily resident in India for seven years before making an application;
- a person who is married to a citizen of India and is ordinarily resident in India for seven years before making an application for registration;
- minor children of persons who are citizens of India;
- a person whose parents are Indian citizens;
- a person who, or either of his parents, was earlier a citizen of independent India; or
- a person who has been registered as an OCI for five years.
It is important to note that applicants must have been continuously in India for twelve months prior to the date of application. The regulations do grant a cumulative absence from India for a total of thirty days (which may be over multiple trips) if the central government is satisfied that special circumstances exist.
Citizenship by Naturalization
Citizenship of India by naturalization may be acquired by a foreign national (not being an illegal migrant) who is ordinarily resident in India for a period of twelve years (including uninterrupted stay throughout the period of twelve months immediately preceding the date of application and for eleven years in the aggregate of fourteen years preceding the twelve months). There are certain other criteria that must be met as well.
Renunciation of Foreign Citizenship
On being approved for Indian citizenship, an individual must renounce his/her current nationality and provide evidence of this to the Indian government. The process and processing time for renunciation depend on the country of citizenship and these could vary widely from country to country.
A naturalization certificate granting Indian citizenship is only issued after proof of renunciation is presented to the government.
For children, however, the rules are different. If a child who is eligible for Indian citizenship is granted citizenship of another country – for instance because they were born in a country which automatically grants citizenship by birth, the child may differ the decision about which citizenship to accept until they attain the age of eighteen. On turning eighteen, they could choose which citizenship to accept. However, the practical aspects of this option are tricky and children could be precluded from getting a passport or visa from a particular country in certain circumstances. Also, certain countries will not permit a child to renounce his/her citizenship until they attain the age of eighteen.
Registering as an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) is often mistaken for dual citizenship. India does not grant dual citizenship. Therefore, if an individual claims to be a citizen of foreign country, the claim to Indian citizenship is automatically refuted. In our experience, Indian citizens who have given up their Indian nationality and chosen a foreign citizenship, usually choose to apply for an OCI registration and, generally, do not reclaim their Indian citizenship.
Though it does not grant dual citizenship there are several procedural and financial advantages to register as an OCI and the following individuals qualify as OCIs:
- A person who at any time held an Indian passport; or
- A person who or whose either parent of his/her parents or grandparents or great grand- parents was born in and was a permanent resident of India, provided neither was at any time a citizen of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Pakistan or Sri Lanka or any other country that may be specified by the Government from time to time.
General Steps to Follow to Acquire Indian Citizenship and Renounce U.S. Citizenship
- Submit the citizenship application along with the requisite documents to the District Magistrate in the area of residence in India.
- The application will then be forwarded to the State Home Department for verification. At any stage in the application process, the government can request for additional documentation on a case by case basis.
- Once the verification (which involves a police verification as well) has been completed by the state department, the application will be sent to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in New Delhi to determine eligibility under the Indian Citizenship Act.
- Once the citizenship application has been accepted, the MHA will inform the individual of its provisional approval through a letter, which will also request proof of renouncing U.S. citizenship. It is at this stage, that the individual must make an application to renounce U.S. citizenship.
- A U.S. citizen is required to communicate the decision to voluntarily renounce U.S. citizenship to an officer at an U.S. Embassy or Consulate. This interview is to ensure that the renunciation is out of the individual’s free will and not under any duress. The officer will then request that the individual take time to ponder the decision and get back within a prescribed period.
- After the prescribed time has passed, appear in person before a U.S. consular officer along with the requisite application forms and documents and sign an oath of renunciation. The application and necessary documents will be forwarded to the U.S. State Department in Washington DC where the renunciation request will be processed after which the individual will receive the Certificate of Loss of Nationality.
- This Certificate of Loss of Nationality must be presented to the MHA through the State Home Department as proof of renunciation of U.S. citizenship.
- Once the requisite proof has been submitted and verified, the individual will be required to visit the District Magistrate’s office along with two witnesses to sign an Oath of Allegiance to India.
- Once the Oath of Allegiance has been signed and verified, the MHA will issue a Certificate of Naturalization granting Indian Citizenship.
Please note that after receiving a Certificate of Naturalization the individual must apply for an Indian passport for travel overseas.