Non-Muslims refugees need to stay 5 yrs for citizenship

Non-Muslims refugees need to stay 5 yrs for citizenship

Non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan can acquire Indian citizenship if they prove their residency in India for five years

Under the Citizenship Act, 1955, one needs to prove 12 years of residency in India as the qualification for acquiring citizenship under naturalisation. (Representative Image/PTI Photo)

The new Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 allows a non-Muslim refugee from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to acquire Indian citizenship if they could prove their residency in India for five years as against six years prescribed in the previous version of the proposed legislation.

Under the Citizenship Act, 1955, one needs to prove 12 years of residency in India as the qualification for acquiring citizenship under naturalisation.

The previous version of the Bill -- Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 that lapsed after the dissolution of the previous Lok Sabha -- had set six years for illegal immigrants belonging to persecuted Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians in the three countries where the official religion is Islam.

The reduction in one year for the naturalisation process is one of the major changes in the new Bill, which was circulated among MPs on Friday.

The Bill, which also said that people from these six communities from these countries who entered India before December 31, 2014 will "not be treated as illegal migrant", is  has been listed for introduction and passage in Lok Sabha on Monday and passed the next day. The Bill also grant immunity to such refugees facing legal cases after being found as illegal migrants.

Providing reasons reducing years from 11 years to five years for naturalisation, the Statement and Objects and Reasons of the Bill said many people belonging to these communities have been applying for citizenship but are unable to produce proof of their Indian origin and are forced to apply for citizenship by naturalisation.

"This denies them many opportunities and advantages they may accrue only to the citizens of India, even though they are likely to stay in India permanently," it said adding that they would be eligible for citizenship by naturalisation "if they can establish their residency" in India for five years.

In what is seen as a defence to exclude Muslims from the Bill, it said the Constitutions of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh provide for a "specific state religion" and many persons belonging to minority communities have faced persecution on grounds of religion in those countries.

"Some of them also have fears about such persecution in their day-to-day life where right to practice, profess and propagate their religion has been obstructed and restricted. Many such persons have fled to India to seek shelter and continued to stay in India even after their travel documents have expired or they have incomplete or no documents," it said.

While the existing Act considers those who entered India without valid travel documents or if the validity has expired are regarded as "illegal migrants" and ineligible to apply for citizenship, the fresh amendments allow the six communities from three countries to be eligible to apply for citizenship as they are not considered as those who illegally entered or staying in India.

The Bill will not be applicable in the tribal regions which are governed under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and in the area covered under The Inner Line, notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873. Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram comes under IPL regime. The areas in Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura where Sixth Schedule is applicable is also out of the Bill's ambit.

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