TEL AVIV: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday said Israelis of Indian origin would get the Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) cards even if they have served in the Israeli Defence Forces, making an exception to a rule that his government had strongly backed last year. OCI cards facilitate visa-free travel to India, give holders rights of residency and participation in business and educational activities in the country.
PM Modi made the announcement in his address to the Indian diaspora at Tel Aviv Convention Centre, drawing a loud applause from thousands of people of Indian origin who had gathered to hear him.
A high-level panel of security experts in Delhi last year told the NDA government to bar foreign nationals from getting the OCI cards if they had served in a foreign military at any point of time.
But the rule also excluded a large proportion of people of Indian origin in Israel from getting the OCI card since every Israeli male and female is compulsorily required to serve in the military for three and two years, respectively. This disqualified young Israelis of Indian origin from getting the card.
PM Modi, who also announced direct Mumbai-Tel Aviv flights in his address, touched upon the difficulties that Indian origin people were facing for having served in the military. "I am told about the difficulty being faced by Indian origin people to get OCI cards," he said.
If the Indian Jewish community isn't able to get the OCI card then the objective of issuing these cards will remain unfulfilled, he added, announcing his decision to relax the rule for Israelis who served in the military as part of Israel's conscription law. Relations which are bound by heart are not dependent on papers or cards, PM Modi declared in the presence of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
There are approximately 85,000 Jews of Indian-origin in Israel, up from the estimated 45,000 estimated in the late nineties when India first turned its attention to its diaspora.
PM announces OCI card for those Indian origin persons who have done compulsory military service in Israel pic.twitter.com/0KBF5yOwqD- Gopal Baglay (@MEAIndia) July 5, 2017
In 2014, PM Modi had announced life-long visas for people holding an older version of the OCI card, called Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) card. But PM Modi's attempt to simplify the process got entangled in bureaucratic technicalities.
On the ground, the initiative meant that everyone with a PIO card was forced to get their card replaced with an OCI card. More than two years later, a large number of PIO card holders are yet to complete the formalities. Last month, the home ministry had again extended the deadline for exchanging the PIO cards to December-end.