London: The merger of Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) and Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) schemes, as announced by the Centre is turning out to be a confusing exercise for thousands of expats as the deadline for the conversion of cards nears on June 30.
However, the Indian High Commission in London says there is no reason to panic because for those converting the PIO cards to OCI cards - another document that allows unlimited visa-free travel to India - will be allowed to travel even after the deadline, pending issuance of OCI card.
"Currently, June 30 is the last date for applying for PIO to OCI conversion. All PIO cards holders are, therefore, advised to apply for conversion to OCI card well before the last date. At the time of application, the original PIO card is returned to the applicant after verification and only a photocopy is taken for processing," said an official statement from the High Commission of India, London in response to a query by NDTV.
"After processing, at the time the OCI card is issued, the PIO card will be cancelled. During the interim period (from time of application to issue of OCI card), the PIO card continues to be valid," the statement said.
It usually takes about 20 working days to process the OCI for an applicant.
"We are currently putting in place the necessary infrastructure to decentralise the process. Once this is done, the High Commission will be able to do the entire processing and issuance of OCI cards (for PIO to OCI conversion cases) in London which will bring down processing times," it said.
Meanwhile for Nilesh Shah, a visa agent in west London's Ealing area, it is an unusually busy time. He is busy preparing documents for several clients who require an OCI.
"These sudden changes in rules have cause confusion and panic, especially for Indian origin senior citizens. I take a small price but help them put together their applications and get them a VFS office appointment," said Mr Shah.
70-year-old British Indian businessman, Ashwin Kumar, who spent three days getting all documents ready, said: "I will appreciate if the Government of India doesn't change the policy again. The hassle of paper work and frequent trips to the High Commission is more work for us and them."
PIO cards allowed visa-free travel to India for 15 years and required that holders registered with the police if they stayed in the country for more than 180 days. People with Indian heritage and foreigners married to Indians were eligible for the cards.
Meanwhile, OCI cards allow visa free travel with no time limit. The announcement for this conversion was made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his trip to the US in 2014.