Holders of Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) stranded around the world due to the Covid-19 pandemic are rejoicing this morning after the Indian government announced they will be included in repatriation flights to India.
Tens of thousands of OCI holders became stranded in dozens of countries around the world after the Indian government suspended all international air travel to the country on 22 March.
Families were divided, thousands of students stranded and spouses separated. Adding to their woes was the Indian government’s decision to exclude them from repatriation flights.
Among those worst affected were students studying at universities and schools that were rapidly shutting down around the world.
Following appeals from desperate OCI holders, the Indian government on Friday (May 22) announced a number of special exemptions for OCI holders.
The exemption applies to minor children born to Indian national abroad and holding OCI cards; OCI card holders who wish to travel to India due to a family emergency, such as a death in the family; couples where one spouse is an OCI cardholder and the other is an Indian national and they have a permanent residence in India; University students who are OCI card holders, who are not legally minors, but whose parents are Indian citizens living in India.
The news has come as a relief for thousands.
While many OCI holders live, work, and study outside of India many only know India as their home – some are the children of Indian-origin parents who hold citizenship of another country while others were born in another country but have grown up in India.
The plight of OCI students – who have moved overseas for higher education after spending their entire lives in India – has been particularly stark.
Most of them are stranded in the United States and the UK. Many have no friends or relatives in the countries where they study after schools and universities shuttered.
With economic activity virtually non-existent many students have lost the jobs that they depended on to support themselves.
One student, currently stranded in the UK, told the UKAsian: “It has been a very anxious and stressful time for so many of us. Some have been fortunate enough to find accommodation and a means to live but many have not.”
It is expected that OCI holders from the exempt categories will be able to get spaces on flights on the 3rdphase of ‘Vande Bharat’, the Indian government’s massive repatriation exercise, which is expected to begin in the coming days.