Citizenship Laws in India – FAQs Frequently asked questions on Citizenship laws in India before the recent Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019

21, Dec 2019 | Sanchita Kadam

Which articles in the Constitution deal with citizenship rights?

Articles 5 to 11 deal with provisions relating to citizenship. Articles 5 to 10 deal with citizenship at the time of coming into force of the Constitution (ie until January 1950). Article 11 empowers the Indian Parliament to make Regulate on Citizenship by law. It was in exercise of this power that the Citizenship Act, 1955 was enacted.

What are the fundamental principles on Indian Citizenship?

India’s is a constitutional democracy which, by law and the Constitution grants people of all faiths, creeds, castes, languages and genders citizenship. All are equally and without discrimination, Indian.

How does one become a citizen of India?

Under the Citizenship Act, 1955, there are 5 methods of acquiring citizenship:

  1. by birth
  2. by descent (those born outside India from Indian citizen parents)
  3. by registration
  4. by naturalisation (being ordinarily resident in India for twelve years)
  5. by acquisition of territory (e.g., Sikkim)

How does a foreigner become a citizen of India?

A foreigner can apply for citizenship by means of registration or naturalization, each of these have certain specific provisions that need to be fulfilled in order to acquire citizenship.

What are the benefits of being a citizen in India?

A citizen is entitled to all the fundamental rights such as the right to life, right to equality before the law, freedom of speech and expression, non-discrimination, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, etc. They have a right to permanently reside in India, while foreigners do not have that privilege. Citizens have a right to vote and most state welfare schemes are only meant for citizens.

What rights do foreigners have in India?

Foreigners are entitled to fundamental right of life and personal liberty.

Who is an illegal migrant as per Citizenship Act, 1955?

Under section 2(1)(b), an illegal migrant is defined as any person who entered India without a valid passport or travel document or having entered India with a valid passport or travel document, has stayed behind after its expiry.

Can an illegal migrant apply for citizenship by naturalization or registration?

No. The Citizenship Act, 1955 (before the 2019 amendment) does not entitle illegal migrants to acquire citizenship by naturalization or registration.

What is the mode of citizenship for illegal migrants as per the newly amended CAA, 2019?

The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 provides for citizenship by naturalisation to illegal migrants, relaxing the pre-requisite of residence in India to 5 6 years, as opposed to 11 years for other foreigners.

What are the major amendments made to Citizenship Act, before CAA?

From the birth of the Indian republic (1950) until 1987 a person has had to be born here to be an Indian citizen; after 1987, apart from her/his birth one of the parents has to have been born Indian; after 2004, in addition to one of the parents being born here, the other should not be an illegal migrant.

Is the definition of “illegal migrant” different in Assam?

Yes. Owing to the Assam agitation in the late 1970s and early 1980s, an Act called Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act, 1983 was passed which treated an illegal migrant as one who entered India after March 25, 1971, without a passport or other valid travel documents.

Are there separate provisions for Assam in the Citizenship Act?

Yes. After the Assam Accord was signed in 1985, the Act was amended subsequently to include a rather long Section 6A.  This is complicated and certain provisions await clarification before a constitutional bench of the Supreme Court. In essence this amendment made certain qualifications for citizenship for Assam: all those persons who came from erstwhile East Pakistan before 1.1.1966 and who are ordinary residents of Assam since then would be treated as citizens of India from 1.1.1966; that those who entered Assam from East Pakistan between 1.1.1966 to 25.3.1971, have been residing there and have been detected as a foreigner shall register with the concerned authority. The authority if it feels that the person meets the criteria will register such a person and if it feels that such a person does not meet the criteria will refer the matter to Foreigners Tribunal. Such a person will be treated as citizen of India at the end of 10 years from the date of his detection as foreigner. Till this period, he will have other rights but not right to vote. After 10 years he/ she will have all rights of a citizen. However, Section 6A (7) says nothing in this Section shall apply to a person who is a citizen of India before 7.12.1985. Before 1985, across India citizenship was by birth and so even if illegal migrants who have entered India after 25.3.1971 give birth to a child in India before 7.12.1985 such child will be treated as citizen of India.

Does the government have the power to terminate your citizenship?

Yes. Section 10 of the Act makes provisions for deprivation of citizenship by an order of Central government. This can be done in following cases:

  1. where citizenship by naturalisation or registration is obtained by fraudulent means; or
  2. if person is ‘disloyal or disaffected’ towards the Constitution; or
  3. within five years of after naturalisation or registration has been sentenced to imprisonment of at least 2 years; or
  4. has been residing outside India for 7 years for purposes other than educational or in service of government or international organization of which India is a member or he has not registered annually at an Indian consulate expressing his intention to retain his citizenship; or
  5. during war unlawfully traded or communicated with the enemy

    Does the Citizenship Act provide for maintenance of a National Register of Citizens?

Yes. The Act was amended in 2004 to include section 14A which says that the government may maintain a National Register of Citizens to issue national identity card to citizens.

For FAQs on the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 click here.


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