Orange is the new blue? Indians worried about passport reform

The ‘ECR’ stamp in the current passport ensures the safety of uneducated and unskilled Indian workers.

The Indian government’s decision to do away with the address page in the Indian passport has received mixed reaction from social workers and expats in the UAE.

In a statement made to the media on January 12, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) announced its decision to do away with the last page of the passport and other travel. The last page contains information such the name of parents, spouse, address, Emigration Check Required (ECR) and old passport number with date and place of issue of the holder of the passport.

Late last year, the Indian government also announced that NRIs are not eligible to apply for Aadhar – India’s biometric identity card – nor are they required to link their Aadhar details to PAN cards or register it with their SIM cards. The decision to do-away with the address page on the passport raises questions as to what NRIs must do to avail services such as apply for SIM cards or open bank accounts in India.

Indian missions in the UAE have stated that they are yet to receive official instruction from the Ministry in New Delhi before new passports can be issued. Pavan K. Rai, first secretary, consular affairs at the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi, said: “We are yet to receive official instructions from New Delhi with this regard, and cannot comment on the decision’s effects on NRI’s in UAE. Once we get clear guidelines from the ministry, we can clarify processes for residents.”

ECR segregation is discriminatory

Furthermore, the proposal to issue ‘an orange coloured’ passport for Emigration Check Required (ECR) categories of people was met with ire, as social workers stated that it is discriminatory to segregate citizens who have not passed Secondary School Leaving Certificate (SSLC) examinations.

The ‘ECR’ stamp in the current passport ensures the safety of uneducated and unskilled Indian workers, from the deprived socio-economic conditions, against prevailing legal conditions in foreign countries.

KV Shamsudheen, founder and chairman of Pravasi Bandhu Welfare Trust, has written a letter to the Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj requesting her to retract this decision as it would cause severe difficulty for NRI’s. He said: “It is not fair to segregate citizens who in the ECR category with and orange passport. The government is claiming the orange passport will save workers from exploitation. But that is not the case, they will be subject to discrimination, especially at immigration lines at international airports.”

Social worker Girish Pant said that the decision has its pros and cons. “If workers are easily identified with the different coloured passport, they can avail services that would protect them against unscrupulous agents and job frauds. However, removal of the address could indeed cause increased paper work for NRIs, especially when it comes to getting their paperwork attested by various authorities.”

Many countries demand parents’ information for resident and visit visa purposes, said Shamsudheen, adding, “If the new passport is implemented, NRIs have to get a certificate showing parents’ names’ (birth certificate) from their home cities, that requires attestation by the Indian ministry of foreign affairs, embassies of the home country, and attestation by respective country’s foreign ministry. It will be very cumbersome to NRIs. Applying for visas to foreign countries will be a technical nightmare,” he said.

Another social worker in Dubai Kusum Dutta said: “When Aadhar was implemented, my family and I got it made. I feel proud to have an Aadhar with me, because it gives me a sense of identity. Though I am very happy that the government has taken such a bold step, I am a bit unsure if we’re equipped electronically to handle this shift given our population. Both in India and abroad.”



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