For the second time in a row, the government of India has extended the validity of PIO cards. Travellers in possession of a PIO card do not need to apply for a visa to travel to India.
What is a PIO card?
PIO stands for ‘Person of Indian Origin’. It refers to people of Indian birth or descent who do not officially hold Indian citizenship. The Constitution of India does not allow a person to hold a second nationality in addition to Indian nationality. For individuals who do not have Indian nationality, it is usually mandatory to apply for a visa to enter the country. The only other nationalities that do not require a visa to enter India are Bhutan, Nepal and the Maldives. The PIO system was established in 2002, so that Indian citizens who do not have an Indian passport can still easily travel to their native country. PIO cardholders are also allowed to travel to India without a visa.
OCI card replaces PIO
In 2006, just four years after the PIO system went into effect, the OCI (‘Overseas Citizen of India’) system was introduced. The OCI system is much more comprehensive than the PIO system and gives overseas Indians more rights. Indians with an OCI card are also allowed to travel to India without a visa. However, OCI cardholders do not have the same rights as citizens of India. This became clear once again during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the government of India temporarily halted visa-free travel for OCI travellers, while travellers with Indian passports could still travel to India without a visa.
On 9 January 2015, the PIO system was permanently replaced by the OCI system. An OCI card needs to be renewed only once, when the holder turns 20 years old. After that, the document is permanently valid.
PIO validity extended again
Travellers who hold a PIO card issued before 2015 can have it converted to an OCI card. The government of India has already set several deadlines for PIO cards to become invalid, but they have been extended each time. The most recent deadline was 31 December 2022. However, even this deadline has now been extended, to 31 December 2023. For PIO cardholders, this means they can continue to travel to India without a visa until that date. This requires a valid passport from the travellerʼs country of residence in addition to the PIO.
The government does warn that the 31 December 2023 deadline can be withdrawn at any time, causing all PIO cards to immediately lose their validity. All PIO cardholders will then have to apply for a visa to enter India. The government therefore advises these individuals to get their PIO cards converted to OCI cards as soon as possible. Depending on the nationality of the holder, this can be done either at the embassy or at VFS Global.
Visa required without PIO or OCI card
Not all people of Indian origin are eligible for an OCI card. For instance, it is not possible to apply for an OCI card for travellers whose parents or grandparents were once citizens of Pakistan or Bangladesh. Similarly, individuals who once served in the army of their country of residence can no longer obtain an OCI card. For these persons, it is therefore mandatory to apply for a visa to travel to India. Depending on their nationality, they may be eligible for the e-visa, which can be easily applied for online. Since there is no need to make an appointment at the embassy, it saves travellers a lot of time and money. However, to start the application process for this visa, travellers must meet all the requirements of the Indian e-visa.