In a recent incident at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport, a passenger preparing to board a late-night flight to Chicago on May 26, 2024, was stopped at the immigration counter. An officer noticed something unusual and requested the individual to step aside for further questioning. During the brief investigation, it was discovered that the passenger, although of Indian origin, was carrying a US passport. The intriguing detail was that his finger was inked from voting in the latest phase of the Lok Sabha elections.

It was clear that the individual was no longer an Indian citizen, although he was born and raised in Angul District, Odisha. He later obtained a US passport and settled in the United States. Despite this, he still has his family home in Odisha and visits India regularly. During this visit to his district, he admitted to voting as a regular Indian citizen using his original voter ID, even though he now holds a US passport.

Can a US citizen Vote in India

No individual who is not an Indian citizen can vote in any election in India. According to the Representation of the People Act, 1950, anyone who is not an Indian citizen is strictly prohibited from being on the electoral roll. This law underscores that only Indian citizens are eligible to participate in the voting process, ensuring that the electoral system remains fair and representative of the country’s populace.

Section 62 (1) of RPA:

No person who is not, and except as expressly provided by this Act, every person who is, for the time being entered in the electoral roll of any constituency shall be entitled to vote in that constituency.

This means to vote in a constituency you must have your name on the electoral roll of that constituency.

Section 62 (2) of RPA:

No person shall vote at an election in any constituency if he is subject to any of the disqualifications referred to in section 16 of the Representation of the People Act, 1950.

This concludes that Section 16 of the Representation of the People Act, 1950 prohibits any individual from participating in any constituency election if they are subject to any of the listed disqualifications.

Section 16(1) of RPA: Disqualifications for registration in an electoral roll

  1. A person shall be disqualified for registration in an electoral roll if he
    • is not a citizen of India; or
    • is of unsound mind and stands so declared by a competent court; or
    • is for the time being disqualified from voting under the provisions of any law relating to corrupt practices and other offenses in connection with elections.
  2. The name of any person who becomes so disqualified after registration shall forthwith be struck off the electoral roll in which it is included

It is apparent that to be able to vote in Lok Sabha election one must be part of an electoral roll of a Constituency in India. And for that, you must be an Indian citizen as defined under the Citizenship Act. If you are not an Indian Citizen then you shall be disqualified for registration in an electoral roll according to section 16 of RPA.

India and Dual Citizenship:

Unlike many other countries around the world, India does not offer Dual Citizenship. It is clearly stated in the Citizenship Act 1955 that if you voluntarily acquire citizenship of any other country either by naturalization or by registration you cease to be an Indian Citizen.

Section 9 Termination of citizenship:

Any citizen of India who by naturalization, registration otherwise voluntarily acquires, or has at any time between the 26th January 1950 and the commencement of this Act, voluntarily acquired, the citizenship of another country shall, upon such acquisition or, as the case may be, such commencement, cease to be a citizen of India.

Overseas citizen of India: OCI

According to the Citizenship Act 1955, OCI may be defined as a person who is registered under Section 7A of the Act. It states that a person can be registered as an Overseas Citizen of India Cardholder;

  1. who is a citizen of another country, but was a citizen of India at the time of, or at any time after the commencement of the Constitution.
  2. who is a citizen of another country, but was eligible to become a citizen of India at the time of the commencement of the Constitution;
  3. who is a citizen of another country, but belonged to a territory that became part of India after the 15th day of August 1947;
  4. who is a child or a grandchild or a great-grandchild of such a citizen; or
  5. a person, who is a minor child of a person mentioned in clause.
  6. a person, who is a minor child, and whose both parents are citizens of India or one of the parents is a citizen of India; or
  7. spouse of foreign origin of a citizen of India or spouse of foreign origin of an Overseas Citizen of India Cardholder registered under section 7A and whose marriage has been registered and subsisted for a continuous period of not less than two years immediately preceding the presentation of the application under this section.

Also Read: OCI : Overseas Citizens of India

Limitation of OCI Card:

Section 7B(2) of THE CITIZENSHIP ACT, 1955: States that an Overseas Citizen of India Cardholder shall not be entitled to:

  • Vote. All OCI holders are disqualified from being registered as voters according to RPA Act.
  • for appointment to public services and posts in connection with affairs of the Union or of any State except for appointment in such services and posts as the Central Government may, by special order in that behalf, specify.
  • Appointment as a Judge in either court.
  • Member of parliament and state legislature.

Benefits of OCI Cards:

Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards offer a range of benefits to individuals of Indian origin who have acquired citizenship in other countries. Section 7B of the Citizenship Act provides that the Gov an Overseas Citizen of India Cardholder is entitled to the rights that the Central Government may designate in this regard by publication in the Official Gazette, aside from the rights mentioned in sub-section (2). Here are some key advantages of holding an OCI card:

  1. Visa-Free Travel: Visas are not required for travel to India for holders of OCI cards. For those who travel often, this offers lifelong validity and many entries, which is very convenient.
  2. Residency and Employment: OCI cardholders can live and work in India indefinitely. They do not require separate employment visas and are free to pursue various job opportunities in the country, except for Government jobs.
  3. Property Rights: OCI cardholders can purchase residential and commercial properties in India, though they are not allowed to buy agricultural land, plantation properties, or farmhouses.
  4. Financial and Economic Benefits: OCI cardholders can open and maintain bank accounts, invest in mutual funds, and buy non-agricultural land. They can also make investments in the stock market under the Portfolio Investment Scheme.
  5. Educational Benefits: OCI cardholders have access to educational benefits such as admission to institutions under the general category rather than the quota for foreign nationals. They may also be eligible for various scholarships and can appear for competitive exams like any other Indian citizen.
  6. Equality with NRIs in Financial, Economic, and Educational Fields: OCI cardholders enjoy parity with Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) in terms of financial, economic, and educational benefits. This includes acquiring, holding, transferring, or disposing of immovable properties in India, apart from agricultural land.
  7. Exemption from Registration with FRRO: OCI cardholders are exempted from registering with the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) for any length of stay in India.
  8. No Requirement for Exit Permits: Unlike other foreigners, OCI cardholders do not need exit permits to leave India.
  9. Entry for Restricted and Protected Areas: With prior permission, OCI cardholders can visit restricted and protected areas in India.
  10. Parental Rights: OCI cardholders can be legal guardians of children, which is crucial for those looking to adopt children from India or manage inheritance and other legal matters.

Concerns over the Issue of Voting by OCI:

In 2005, during the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, the OCI Card program was introduced to acknowledge the enduring emotional ties of the Indian diaspora to their homeland. Since then, India has been regularly issuing OCI cards, with the latest data indicating that there are 4 million OCI cardholders.

In a democratic system where coalition governments are common and votes are spread across a wide range of ideologies, the prospect of OCI holders voting in Indian elections could significantly impact the results. There can be very bad implications if every OCI person decides to vote in India :

  • Influence of Foreign Ideologies: Being exposed to different political and social systems, OCI cardholders might bring foreign ideologies and perspectives into the Indian electoral process. This could lead to conflicts and a dilution of traditional values and priorities that are more pertinent to the resident population.
  • Exclusion of Resident Citizens: Those living in India full-time may feel that their voices are being diluted by those who do not share the same day-to-day experiences and challenges.
  • Potential for Manipulation: There is a risk that the voting process could be manipulated or influenced by external factors, including political groups abroad. OCI holders not knowing the ground reality may be easily influenced by the manipulated advertisements and hype.
  • The majority opinion of the poor population may be affected if too much sensation is given to the interest of the diaspora as they bring in more remittance in terms of foreign currency.
  • Economic and Political Tensions: Allowing OCIs to vote might create economic and political tensions within India, as residents may perceive that external influences are unduly affecting domestic policies and elections. This could lead to a sense of alienation and resentment among local voters.

The context is that Overseas Citizens of India (OCIs) often enjoy a significantly higher quality of life in foreign countries, benefiting from better opportunities to earn, superior living conditions, and access to more advanced facilities for personal and professional development. This disparity can result in a disconnect between OCIs and the daily realities faced by residents of India.

One of the major concerns is that OCIs may not fully grasp the local issues that deeply affect the lives of Indian citizens. For instance, India has a substantial portion of its population, approximately 800 million people, who rely on government-distributed food rations. These residents face challenges related to poverty, unemployment, and basic infrastructure that are vastly different from the experiences of OCIs living abroad.

If all the OCI votes like that and the Election Commission is all careless about the issue then it could lead to a situation where electoral decisions are influenced by individuals who do not directly experience or understand these critical issues. This could result in policies and leadership that are out of touch with the needs and priorities of the resident population. For example, OCIs might prioritize issues such as international relations or economic policies that favor global business ties, while residents might be more concerned with local healthcare, education, and poverty alleviation.

Furthermore, in a country like India, where coalition governments are common, the introduction of OCI votes could significantly alter the electoral landscape. OCIs might vote based on different priorities and ideologies, potentially swaying election results in unexpected ways. This could lead to governments that are less representative of the domestic population’s needs and more aligned with the perspectives of the diaspora.

Why Are Foreign Nationals Still Casting Votes in India?

Every individual involved in this case did not intentionally cast their votes; there are various underlying issues causing such incidents to occur.

  • Lack of awareness: Most of the people in India do not understand the law and rules behind elections and how these elections are related to the rules of citizenship.
  • Confusion on Overseas Citizen of India: the word used in OCI ‘Overseas Citizen of India’ made many people believe that now they are citizens of India like the phrase suggests. Because of the simplicity of understanding they are convinced that they enjoy Indian citizenship as well.
  • Role of the Election Commission to update the electoral Rolls: according to the Citizenship Rules 2009 Ministry of Home Affairs maintains a register of people who renounce their citizenship. The Election Commission of India should update the electoral rolls of every constituency according to this register also.
  • Confusion with NRI status: Many OCI holders are confused over their status to be equivalent to Non Resident Indians (NRI’s). Many of OCIs being NRI initially. NRIs are allowed to vote in India, (RPA Act 2011 Amendment) whereas OCIs do not enjoy such right.


It is a grave concern that OCIs and foreign nationals are participating in the Lok Sabha elections in India. With the number of OCI cards increasing to 4 million, authorities must address their potential involvement in future elections. Due to limited travel restrictions, OCI holders can travel to India without notifying the Foreigners Registration Office (FRO). They can move in and out of the country freely without a visa, allowing them the opportunity to be in India during election periods. To mitigate this issue, the Election Commission of India should regularly update the electoral rolls to identify and remove false voters. Additionally, the Home Ministry should coordinate with the Election Commission to provide data on individuals who have renounced their Indian citizenship. This collaboration will help ensure that only eligible voters are included in the electoral rolls.