Overseas Citizen of India card tempts children of emigrants back home

The latest figures from the UK government show that 30,000 people left the UK to live in India last year, according to the BBC. Most, but not all, of these, are the children of migrants from India who came to the UK seeking opportunities in the 1960s and 70s. A similar trend is emerging in the US as well.

There is a growing trend for the children of Indians who left India for opportunities in the US and the UK to return under the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card scheme to seek out opportunities in the growing Indian economy. India, unlike many countries, does not recognise dual citizenship. Indians who have emigrated to the US and the UK and their children will typically have citizenship of the UK or the US; Indian immigrants and their children are not permitted to be Indian citizens as well.

To make it easier for those of Indian origin to live and work in India the Indian Government introduced the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card in 2005. It entitles those who have emigrated from India, as well as their children and grandchildren, the opportunity to retain their current nationality but also to hold a lifelong visa entitling them to live and work in India. So far, over 1 million OCI cards have been granted.

The Indian economy is growing at 5% per annum; this is not as fast as it was at the height of the boom in 2008, but it is still a growth rate which leaves the US and the UK far behind. The OCI card holders see India as a land of opportunity. Sid Shah, born in California, has set up business in Mumbai. In the US, he worked in public relations, organising celebrity endorsement for ambitious brands. He has set up a company, The Wild East, in Mumbai that does the same thing. 'I'm here because there's 1.2bn people and …I think there's a lot of money to be made,' Sid told the BBC.

The parents of these 'reverse migrants' often find it surprising, even distressing, that their children have chosen to abandon the West for the old country. Rajiv Khatri, whose parents emigrated to the US in 1972, told the BBC, 'They [my parents] were very stressed out and frustrated at me moving here. Even now, they're still praying that I go back to the US.'

But Rajiv says that he won't be going back in the foreseeable future. He has set up a health business with two other OCI card holders from the US. Rajiv says that his family have a much higher standard of living in India than they would have in the US.

And they also have advantages over native born Indians, according to Rahul Thadani, who left New York for Bangalore in 2005. He told the BBC that 'The talent and education in the US is very strong and people are bringing those skills and applying them here.'

It is not only ethnic Indians who are rushing to capitalise on the strength of the Indian economy though one interviewee, Rahul Bathija, says that, for British and American born Indians there is an added draw. He says that relocating to India is a bit like going home. 'Being born and brought up in England, you have many questions about your culture – I think you can only answer those when you come here and you realise what's happening with India.'

India is now a far more cosmopolitan and open place than it was in 1991 when the Indian government opened up the economy to external investment. It is a far richer country too, though still blighted by terrible poverty for many as well as a creaking infrastructure, corruption and red tape.

For the one million holders of Overseas Citizens of India cards, India is, above all, a land of opportunity. Those card holders, who arrive in India with their western sensibilities, are accelerating the internationalisation of India. They may be coming home in one sense, but in another, they are bringing something of the west to the east.

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