Difference between NRI, OCI and PIO

23 Jan 2023  Read 14623 Views

Famous personalities such as Salman Rushdie, Amartya Sen, Kalpana Chawla, Jhumpa Lahiri & many others have all made India proud with their achievements in various fields of life like arts, science, business etc. They resided abroad but worked for our country and received appreciation in both India & abroad. But, ever thought of their citizenship status; were they NRI, OCI, or PIO? 

We know these terms are confusing, but we promise this article will make it easy for you to learn. Firstly, all these personalities are NRIs. NRIs are Indian citizens who live abroad & it's different from PIOs or OCIs. PIOs are foreign citizens whose ancestors may have been Indian nationals, and OCI is a form of permanent residency for people of Indian origin and their spouses.

This article discusses the meaning of each of these terms in detail. So, give it a read! 

Who are NRIs?

NRI, non-resident Indians, refers to all Indians residing outside the country. But contrary to its name, an NRI is an Indian citizen holding an Indian passport, but he/ she ordinarily resides outside the country. An individual's residential status needs to be determined for taxes under the Income-tax Act. 

Section 6 of the Income-tax Act does not specifically define who qualifies as an NRI, but it outlines the criteria for an individual to qualify as a resident of India. So, understand that all those who are citizens of India but do not match the said criteria outlined in this act are Non-Residents Indians. So, let’s go through the criteria specified for those who qualify as a resident of India. So if he or she:

  • has been in India for 182 days or more during the previous year (that is; the financial year, already passed), or

  • has been in India for 60 days or more in the previous financial year, in addition to having lived there for 365 days or more in the four years immediately before the said financial year.

Anyone who does not qualify for these criteria is classified as an NRI.

Example: If the current financial year is 2022-23, and the previous financial year is 2021-22, then if the person has been in India for 182 days or more in 2021-22, he/ she will be considered a resident


The person who has stayed for 60 days or more in 2021-22, in addition to having lived in India for 365 days or more in the last four years (2017 to 2020) before 2021- 22 will be considered a resident.

Additionally, NRIs can also open NRI accounts in India who wish to invest their money in India, send funds to families settled in India, or safely park their income from sources in India (such as pension, rent, etc.)

Who are PIOs?

Who is a PIO or Person of Indian Origin? PIO is a foreign citizen who holds a foreign passport but may have held an Indian passport at anytime or whose ancestors may have been Indian nationals, unlike NRI. As per the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), a PIO is a person residing outside India (foreign citizen) who is a citizen of any country except for Bangladesh or Pakistan or such other country as may be specified by the Central Government, satisfying these clauses:

  1. He/ she was a citizen of India by virtue of the Indian Constitution or the Citizenship Act, 1955; or

  2. He/ she belonged to a territory which became part of India after the 15th August 1947; or

  3. He/ she is a child or a grandchild or a great-grandchild of an Indian citizen or of a person referred to in clause (a) or (b); or

  4. He/ she is a spouse of foreign origin of an Indian citizen, or spouse of foreign origin of a person referred to in clause (a) or (b) or (c)

Previously, all PIOs were eligible to become Overseas Citizens of India (OCIs) under the scheme launched after the amendment of Citizenship Act in 2005. But in 2015, the 'Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) Cardholder’ scheme came into being, which stated the opposite. The government finally decided to merge the two schemes in 2015 to ensure that all those holding a PIO card were considered OCI Cardholders. PIO cards continue to be valid for entry and exit to and from India until 31st December 2021, and all PIO card holders were encouraged to apply for an OCI card. Now who are these OCIs?

Who are OCIs?

It is determined by our Indian Constitution (features of the Indian Constitution) that a person can hold only single citizenship and not dual citizenship, i.e., Indian citizens who hold an Indian passport cannot simultaneously hold any other country's passport. But, as the demand for dual citizenship grown with time, the government introduced an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card under S. 7(A) of the Citizenship Act, 1955.

Don’t confuse dual citizenship with OCI; both are different, and OCI does not confer political rights. The registered OCIs are not even entitled to the rights vested on an Indian citizen under Article 16 of the Constitution (Art 16 states equality of opportunity in matters of public employment).

Who can apply for an OCI card?

OCI card is given to a foreign national who is eligible to become an Indian citizen on 26th January 1950, or was an Indian citizen on or at any time after 26th January 1950, or belonged to a territory that became part of India after 15the August 1947, can apply for an OCI card. Even minor children of such persons are also eligible for an OCI card, but the person must not be a citizen of Pakistan or Bangladesh.

Why should one become an OCI cardholder?

OCIs are given a multi-purpose, multi-entry & lifelong visa permitting them to visit India whenever they want, for any length of time & any purpose. They have also been provided with all rights in economic, financial and education fields, just like NRIs, but not the right to acquire agricultural or plantation properties.

Difference between NRI & PIO

Let’s summarise the difference between NRI and PIO, which people confuses the most.


Non-Resident Indian (NRI)

Person of Indian Origin (PIO)


Non-Resident Indians are also referred to as Indian Diaspora & they are Indian citizens but ordinarily residing outside the Republic of India.


The Persons of Indian Origin are known as Overseas Indians. To become one, these are the criteria:

  • A PIO must at any time have held an Indian passport

  • Either of their parents/grandparents/great-grandparents was born and permanently resident in India as defined in the Government of India Act, 1935   

  • He/she is a spouse of an Indian citizen or a PIO.


According to the Ministry of External Affairs data, more than 30 million NRIs are outside India.

The population of PIOs is either the same as NRIs or may be slightly higher than NRIs

Criteria for qualification

One becomes an Indian resident if he/ she has spent 182 days or more of a financial year in India or stayed in India for 60 days or more in the previous financial year and for a period of 365 days or more in the 4 years preceding the relevant financial year

PIO cardholders will not require a visa if they wish to visit India for up to 15 years from the issuance of a PIO Card. They can stay for up to 180 days In India without getting registered with FRRO (Foreigner Regional Registration Office).

Voting rights

They enjoy voting rights in India

They do not have voting rights in India


They are eligible for public offices

They are not eligible to hold public offices in India


They don’t have to take permission to visit restricted places in India.

They need to take permission from the Foreigner Regional Registration Office to visit restricted places in India

About the Author: Kakoli Nath | 269 Post(s)

Kakoli Nath is a legal Content Manager at Finology Legal who pursued BBA.LL.B (5 years integrated course). She is a patent analyst & had also done advanced certification in Forensics Psychology and Criminal Profiling from IFS, Pune.

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