Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday announced merging of the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) and the Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) cards into a single facility to simplify visa-free entry and participation of Indian Diaspora in business and other activities in New Delhi.
Singh also said that the government had decided to extended the facility of the Indian Community Welfare Fund to all the Indian Missions from the current 42.
Hailing the Indian Diaspora, he pointed out that the government had introduced the OCI and PIO cards to facilitate visa-free travel of NRIs and Indian Origin people to India as well as to provide them rights of residency and participation in business and educational activities.
"We have reviewed the functioning of these schemes, and have decided to merge the OCI and PIO cards into a single facility. We hope to iron out some of the problems that have arisen in the implementation of these schemes," he said, addressing the 9th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in New Delhi.
In a bid to encourage PIOs (Indians who have shifted migrated permanently to other countries over centuries) to visit and invest in India, such people were given PIO cards.
A PIO cardholder does not require a visa to visit India and the card is valid for 15 years. A PIO cardholder enjoys several economic and educational benefits.
On the other hand, the OCI card is a kind of lifelong visa and any India origin person can apply for it if his host country allows dual citizenship.
Talking about the Indians who emigrate for work, Singh said their welfare is "a matter of special concern for us".
To improve the conditions for migration, India has signed Social Security Agreements with 12 countries and finalised Labour Mobility Partnerships with two others, he said, adding a generic arrangement is also being negotiated with the European Union also.
"As a further measure, we have now extended the facility of the Indian Community Welfare Fund to all Indian Missions," he said. At present, such funds are available in 42 Missions.
Singh said the government has decided to establish new Indian cultural centres in the US, Canada, Saudi Arabia, France and Australia.
"I urge the Indian communities in these countries to support and patronise these centres so that they become effective instruments for projecting the diversity and splendour of Indian culture," the Prime Minister said.
In his address, Singh invited the Indian Diaspora to invest in the Northeast and contribute in accelerating the pace of development in the region.
"I represent Assam in Parliament and I know what bountless potential the region has to contribute to nation building given the right opportunities. Providing gainful employment opportunities for the youth is a real challenge. I encourage the Diaspora to join hands with local and national efforts to accelerate the pace of development of this region," the Prime Minister said.
The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, which organises the Pravasi Bhartiya Divas, has partnered this time with eight northeastern states and Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region to project the region as an attractive destination for investment.
The Prime Minister said government has decided to start a 'skills initiative' for overseas employment of people from northeastern states.
"Towards this end, we will identify an institute of excellence to promote technical skills in the region in the areas of hospitality and healthcare," he said.