The government is establishing procedures for making descendants of indentured labourers living in Fiji and other countries eligible for OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) cards, prime minister Narendra Modi said last Sunday (8).
“Starting with Mauritius, we are working to put in place procedures so that descendants of Girmitiyas could become eligible for OCI cards. We remain committed to addressing similar difficulties of PIOs (People of Indian Origin) in Fiji, the Reunion Islands, Suriname, Guyana and other Caribbean states,” he said in his address at the 14th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Bangalore.
Girmityas are descendants of indentured Indian labourers who were brought to Fiji to work on sugarcane plantations in the mid-1800s.
Modi also urged people to convert their PIO into OCI cards, reiterating the government’s decision to extend the deadline for these card conversions from December 31 last year to June 30, without any penalty.
“From January 1 this year, beginning with Delhi and Bangalore, we have set up special counters at immigration points for OCI cardholders. We want it to become a symbol of global migration, achievements and aspirations of the diaspora,” he said.
Observing there were over 30 million overseas Indians globally, he said they were not just respected for their numbers, but for the contributions they have made to the societies they live in.
“The NRIs and PIOs have made outstanding contributions to their chosen fields. They are role models for immigrants from other backgrounds and countries… They take our values and culture wherever they go. The Indian diaspora have contributed their best towards progress in their host country,” Modi said.
He added that the remittance of close to $69 billion (£57bn) annually by overseas Indians made an invaluable contribution to the Indian economy.
Talking about ‘brain drain’, Modi said his government was taking steps to convert that into “brain gain”.
“When people spoke of brain drain, it was believed that the brighter people went abroad seeking employment opportunities… but I was asking people that whoever are left behind in India, are they dumb? It is our endeavour to convert that brain drain into brain gain,” he said.
Modi also announced that the government was planning to launch a skill-development programme, Pravasi Kaushal Vikas Yojna, for Indian youth who seek employment overseas.