Bengaluru–Lauding the deep and emotional attachment Persons of Indian Origin in Girmitiya countries have for their motherland, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday told PIOs to obtain Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards by June 30.

“We have extended the deadline to convert PIO cards into OCI cards to June 30 from December 31, without penalty,” Modi told the Indian diaspora at the 14th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas celebrations here.

“We have also set up special immigration counters at New Delhi and Bengaluru airports since January 1 for OCI card holders. Similar counters will be opened at more airports in the country,” said Modi in his inaugural address at the event.

Girmityas are the fourth or fifth generation of descendents of indentured Indian labourers who during the 19th century went to Fiji, Mauritius, South Africa and the Caribbean islands to work on agricultural fields and settled down in these countries.

Acknowledging the difficulties faced by the PIOs in getting the OCI cards, the Prime Minister said his government was working on new procedures to facilitate the descendants of Girmitiyas in Mauritius become eligible for OCI cards.

“We are committed to addressing similar difficulties of PIOs in Fiji, Reunion Islands, Suriname, Guyana and other Caribbean states,” said Modi on the occasion.

Noting that about three crore people of Indian origin were living across the world, Modi said they were not only respected for their numbers, but also for the contributions they have made to societies they live in.

“The NRIs and PIOs have made outstanding contributions in their chosen fields. They are role models for immigrants from other backgrounds and countries. They take with them our values and culture wherever they go,” Modi said.

Observing that it was special for him to connect with the diaspora, which made India proud on the world stage, the Prime Minister said the government was doing everything possible to deepen the outreach with NRIs and PIOs.

“Overseas Indians have also made invaluable contribution to the Indian economy, including 69-billion dollar-worth remittances in 2016. We are strengthening processes at our embassies and consulates to facilitate their easier travel to India,” said Modi.

Asserting that the diaspora represented the best of Indian culture, ethos and values, Modi said the welfare, security and safety of all Indians abroad was his government’s top priority.

“Efforts are also being made to provide maximum facilitation and ensure least inconvenience to even Indian citizens seeking economic opportunities abroad,” added Modi.(IANS)