Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Visas and PIO's and OCI's - Oh My!

Mood: Calm
Listening to: Scooby Doo

If you plan to have any type of long-ish term stay in a foreign country, you will probably become intimately acquainted with sending lots of papers back and forth to and from that country, or at least the embassy of said country.
Having grown up a Canadian born naturalized US citizen, I always thought that we were paperwork happy. I now realize that probably isn’t true. The US isn’t so much about the quantity of paperwork but the quality of a few key documents. This is patently untrue of India. The sheer amount of papers completely overwhelm any semblance of keying in on important proof.

Like most other countries, you have to have permission/a reason to go and stay in India on a long term basis. You can get a 10 year visa for India, but you will not be allowed to be in the country for more than 6 months at a time. This leads to expensive trips in and out of countries and is generally not worth the hassle unless you plan to stay less than 6 months. However, in the grand scheme of things, it is the easiest, cheapest and most likely quickest to obtain. It is possible to enter India on a visa and then apply for another form of permission if applicable.

If you happen to be married to an Indian or be the child of one, you have the option of obtaining a PIO (Person of Indian Origin) card. This card allows you to stay in India indefinitely, but with fewer rights than an Indian citizen – i.e. voting, owning property, etc. The catch for this is, you have to be either  a spouse or child of an Indian citizen. Persons over 18 also have to register at the police station every 6 months which may or may not be a major hassle – more on that to come. This is the option that our family chose for me and my two daughters. It’s worth mentioning that this option is not all that cheap. It cost $200 per child for my children and $350 for me. That’s a large chunk of change.  You should also be prepared for a buttload of paperwork too. Not only are there lots of documents, 2 copies of every single document are also required.

Another option if you are a child or grandchild of an Indian citizen is to obtain an OCI (original citizen of India) card. This is largely like the same as obtaining a PIO, only you need to already have a PIO to apply for an OCI, it’s more expensive, and there’s even more paperwork involved. You are also free of the obligation of visiting the police station every 6 months. It also takes longer to process than a visa or PIO card.

A note on the Indian embassy. Anyone who is at all familiar with the Indian bureaucracy is familiar with the way that simple things just become more complicated than necessary. You need to start this process a good 2 months prior to departure for a visa and PIO and 3 months for an OCI or you really roll the dice as to whether it will get done or not. The embassy itself has hired a private company to collect applications and money so you will never actually talk to anyone at the embassy. The company is for the most part efficient and professionally run. We almost had papers returned to us because we were missing copies of a document and the company failed to notify us until 2 days before our whole application was returned. If you have your application returned, you do not get your money back, but you can apply (and start the process all over again) without paying again. My husband is one of the most meticulous people on earth when filling out paperwork, but we still missed something. So..start early and triple check.  Be sure to double check the number of fingerprints required and assure that they are ONLY in the boxes provided.

My husband, the key to us all staying in India, is already a citizen there (more on this later too) so he doesn’t have to apply for anything. Lucky bugger.