After 9 months of anxiety, caution, happiness, dietary discipline, dedication and hard-work, my wife gave birth to a healthy baby. Though everyone had warned us that the 9 months of pregnancy was the easy part, we had set the delivery date as a huge milestone in our life that will be followed by tons of happiness with a brief period of sleep deprivation. But soon after the birth of our child, we realized that this “brief” period of sleep deprivation is likely going to be very long, and accompanied by multiple magnitudes of anxiety, caution, happiness, dietary discipline, dedication and hard work.
In the middle of all this, we were faced with the question of making a decision on our child’s nationality for the first 18 years of his life. My wife and I are Indian citizens, legally residing in the US. Our child was born on US soil. Per existing regulations, this made him eligible to select between Indian or American citizenship for the first 18 years of age. Unfortunately, India does not yet support dual citizenship. So once our child becomes a legal adult, he will need to pick between either of the two countries for his nationality and renounce the other nationality, if India still does not support dual citizenship by that time.
We had often heard about the downside of becoming an American national – such as the possibility of being drafted into American military services once he turned 18, income tax liability towards uncle sam on global income, ineligibility to run for government office in India, ineligibility to own agricultural land in India, ineligibility for domestic quota at Indian educational institutions and defaulting to Non-Resident Indian (NRI) quota.
Our nationalistic beliefs towards India further compounded the difficulty of making this decision on behalf of our newborn.
Finally we decided to take the easy way out. There is a strong chance that we will continue to reside in a country other than India (or travel often from India to foreign countries) for several of the first 18 years of our child’s age, with him tugged along. It is usually easier to travel internationally on an American passport as it eliminates the need for a tourist visa in many countries. Moreover, it was comparatively easier to apply for an American passport while residing in the US. We do not anticipate our child to own agricultural land before he turns 18. He would anyway be ineligible to run for government office until he turns 18. And we were willing to bear the additional cost of his education in India due to his NRI status. After he turns 18, he can then choose his nationality based on his beliefs and interests.
Now that the hard part of making the decision was done, we just had to complete the “easy” part of getting all official documents. After researching online, I found differing answers on the process of applying for an American passport and an Indian visa for our child. So here is the exact process that I followed:
- 6 hours from birth – Enquired with the nurse about the process for getting a birth certificate
- 12 hours from birth – Completed the birth records information sheet that was given to me by the hospital in the information packet. Informed the nurse that we would like to expedite the process for getting a birth certificate. Nurse agreed to communicate this to the birth records officer
- 30 hours from birth – On-site birth records officer collected information sheet. This is when I reminded her about our request to expedite the birth certificate process. She agreed to overnight relevant information to the Vital Records Office for our county. She also suggested us to call the Vital Records office 7 days from birth to check on availability of birth certificate and then either request a copy by mail or visit the office in person. I did not have to pay any fees to expedite this process.
- Also 30 hours from birth – Completed the form for issuing a social security number (SSN) which said that it will take about 8 weeks to process the request but would avoid a separate visit to the Social Security Administration office.
- 7 days from birth – Called the Office of Birth and Death at the Vital Records Office for our county. The clerk first said that the birth certificate was not ready, when I insisted and repeated that the onsite officer was going to overnight the information to them, she checked again and said that I can visit the office to pick it up. Drove over to the office in 20 minutes after the phone call, there was no line, completed a simple one page form, paid $19 in cash, showed my photo ID and picked up an unrestricted certified copy of the Birth Certificate 10 minutes later. I would recommend getting 2 original copies of the birth certificate if you don’t have even a few days to spare between the time you receive his passport and apply for his visa.
- 10 days from birth – Reviewed http://travel.state.gov/passport/ for passport application instructions. The website was unclear about the need for an SSN for an infant applicant – but the birth records officer had mentioned that SSN is not needed for applying for a passport for an infant. On calling the 1-800 number for the US Department of State, I was told that I can enter 000-00-0000 as the SSN on the application form.
- 10 days from birth – Called the nearest post office that served as a passport acceptance facility to schedule an appointment for applying for passport. Soonest available appointment was 2 weeks away, so called a few other facilities until found a post office that accepted walk-in applications and also took passport photographs.
- 12 days from birth – Went to the post office with my wife and son, completed DS-11 application form, son’s original birth certificate, our original passports, photocopy of our passports, our original legal status documents and checkbook. It is important for both parents to visit in-person or get an affidavit from the parent that cannot visit personally. The agent helping us was really nice despite the fact that she had to click 6 photos until she finally got a photo where our son kept his eyes open. We opted for expedited service at an additional cost of $60 and overnight delivery at an additional cost of $15. The total cost, including passport photographs, was $194.96.
- 26 days from birth – We received our son’s passport through overnight delivery.
- 29 days from birth – We reached the Indian consulate in San Francisco at 9:30 AM with a completed copy of the Person of Indian Origin (PIO) card application form, two passport-sized photos of our son, original birth certificate, original passport of our son, original passport of both parents, original legal status document of both parents, copy of apartment lease, photocopy of all documents. Only one person per service was allowed to enter the consulate. I took a number and waited for about 5 minutes when my number was called. The clerk verified the application form and all documents. Since I opted for overnight delivery of PIO card (instead of in-person pick-up), she provided me with a FedEx envelope and asked me to complete the “To” address field. Next I got into the cashier’s queue to pay the application fee with a debit card. In about 20 minutes, I paid a total of $208 which included the application fee, overnight delivery fee and debit card convenience fee. I was told that the card will be sent to me in about 15 working days. Now I am just waiting for the card. (Update: We got the PIO card on 55th day from birth. So it took about 26 days to get the PIO card – perhaps due to the Thanksgiving break.)
- Tip: Several online resources provide detailed difference between Person of Indian Origin (PIO) card and Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card. But OCI card application process takes about 90 days and I did not want to wait that long. Since India does not support dual citizenship, OCI is a misnomer for a life-time visa.
- Update: A comment from one of our blog readers, prodded me to review the eligibility requirements for OCI in detail. As per instructions on this webpage from Indian Embassy our son is not eligible to apply for OCI because “Minors whose both parents are Indian are not elligible for OCI”
Hopefully the above post will provide clarity on the process for getting all travel documents for a child born to Indian parents in the US. As always please leave your questions or feedback in the comments section.
Following blog post on a related topic may be of interest to you: Foreigner registration in India for infant child with PIO card