India has been extraordinarily generous to the Tibetan people: it has allowed
Tibetans to enter India and, with respect to the first wave of arrivals, to
develop settlements, schools, and medical facilities. Yet the overwhelming
majority of Tibetans residing in India lack a defined legal status. They do not
qualify as refugees in any legal sense.
India is not a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
or its 1967 Protocol. Nor has it adopted national legislation for the protection
of refugees. Without a refugee
designation, Tibetans in India are considered
to be foreigners under domestic law, regardless of how long they have resided in
India. At the same time, few Tibetans have been able to acquire Indian
citizenship and most remain ineligible for naturalization.
Tibetan refugees, as foreigners, are subject to a host of limitations affecting
their ability to travel freely, either domestically or internationally, to own
property in their own names, to qualify for government jobs or seats in
educational institutions, and to vote in Indian elections. As foreigners,
Tibetan refugees' ability to demonstrate and express themselves politically is
also restricted, particularly when Chinese dignitaries are visiting India. From
time to time, India has also expelled Tibetans from its territory, in violation
of its international legal obligation of non-refoulement.
Although in earlier years India had scrupulously respected the principle of
, and despite the apparent clarity of the law on this point,
reports indicate that some Tibetans have indeed been forcibly repatriated to
China. Part V(A) below describes actual cases where the courts have issued
orders of deportation of Tibetans for failure to produce valid and up-to-date
The types of documents issued to Tibetans residing in India and the privileges
those documents confer have evolved over time. Since Tibetans first began
arriving in1959, India has issued three types of documents:
- Registration Certificates;
- Identity Certificates; and
- Special Entry Permits
Each serves a distinct purpose. None of the documents provide any right of
citizenship, and all of them must be renewed periodically.
Because Tibetans in India are foreigners, they are required to hold a valid
Registration Certificate (RC), which signifies that the bearer has registered as
a foreigner in India. RC
is shorthand for registration certificate, not
refugee certificate. The RC must be renewed every 6 months to five years.163
Although an RC does not provide its holder with a legal right to reside in
India, a valid RC provides its bearer with an informal status to live in India.
In practice, this informal status amounts to the ability to reside in a
particular locality of India, typically connected to a Tibetan settlement camp
or locale, and to travel domestically, although subject to the requirement of preapproval and registration by local authorities. As explained in Part IV(C)(2)
below, Tibetans also need RCs in order to travel internationally. With an RC,
albeit subject to the discretion of Indian officials, Tibetans may be issued a
document known as an Identity Certificate (IC), which enables them to travel
internationally to the few countries that will accept these documents in lieu of
a passport, including the United States, Switzerland, and several other states
Whether or not RCs enable Tibetans to apply for bank loans, ration cards or
driver's licenses varies from state to state. In Meghalaya, for example,
Tibetans are deemed ineligible for ration cards and driver's licenses,164
whereas in Maharashtra, Tibetans can get both. In Uttarakhand, Tibetans can get
driver's licenses but not in Sikkim. These variations are most pronounced in
India's border states where Tibetans live particularly restricted lives.
that border China and Pakistan are considered to be politically sensitive,
warranting tighter policies. As such, Tibetans living in Ladakh in the state of
Jammu and Kashmir, and in the various official and informal settlements in
Arunachal Pradesh, are more restricted. For example, in Arunachal Pradesh,
Tibetans cannot obtain cars, driver's licenses, or Aardhaar cards (unique
identification cards issued by the Government of India), even if they have RCs.
In the tourist haven of Ladakh, while Tibetans can be trekking and tourist
guides, and work in hotels and restaurants, they cannot run travel or trekking
agencies, own or operate tourist taxis, run internet cafes or manage large
hotels, under Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which grants special
autonomous status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Acquisition and Renewal of RC
Tibetans who are born in India receive their initial RCs at the age of
sixteen.185 In general, a birth certificate is required to obtain an RC;
however, a child who does not have a birth certificate may also show school
documents (their Class 10 certificate) or prove his or her identity through
police certification.186 Some Indian officials will accept bribes when a Tibetan
is unable to provide a birth certificate.187 It is reportedly common for
Tibetans to acquire an RC based on false information, most typically a
representation that the Tibetan was born in India.
RCs must be renewed annually or semi-annually, depending on the place of
issuance. However, effective in April 2012, Tibetans who were born in India or
have lived in India for more than twenty years are only required to renew their
RC every five years, assuming the holder has lived in the same district for five
years. The procedure to become eligible for a five-year RC renewal varies,
depending on the state government.
Typically, to renew an RC, a Tibetan must provide an application form, his or
RC, and a letter of support. The support letter must come from an institution in
India affiliated with the applicant e.g. monasteries, settlement offices, and
schools may provide these letters for the monks, settlers, and students that
There are no clearly defined, national rules regulating RC renewal some states
have specific laws detailing how to renew RCs, while in other states the process
is left to the discretion of the local officers. Often in the border areas, the
security forces are in charge of RCs, while other states have a Foreign
Registration Office (FRO) that is in charge of RC renewals.
In many of the settlements there is no problem with getting and renewing RCs and
the 5-year renewal period is in effect. In some places, Tibetans must travel
some distance to an office to renew their RC. In other states, the Settlement
Officer takes all the RCs to the FRO and then brings them back renewed to the
refugees.198 Sometimes Indian officers come to the settlements to renew the RCs
there. In some states, the Indian government has an office within the settlement
to provide support with RC renewal.
Some places are attempting to modernize and make the process smoother though
these attempts sometimes unintentionally slow things down. Overall, the process
of renewing one's RC depends on the particular state and its relationship with
Tibetans must usually renew their RC in the state in which it was issued. For
some Tibetans, such as college students or monks living in monasteries far from
their settlements, this is difficult, as it demands time away from their studies
and money to travel long distances. Some Tibetans resort to paying bribes to
renew their RC without traveling to the home district. It is however possible
for Tibetans to request that their state for registration be changed.
Consequences of not having an RC
Although there is no accurate record of how many Tibetans are living in India
without an RC, there are undoubtedly a cohort of unregistered Tibetans, who
either entered in the years between 1995 and 2003 when RCs were not being given
out to Tibetans by the Government of India, or who entered in 2003 or after
outside of the official channels and therefore without an SEP.
Tibetans who reside in India without RCs have no legal status; they are
ineligible for any
benefits; they are vulnerable to harassment by the police, and arrest,
detention, extortion, fines and threatened or actual deportation.
As a result of their extreme legal vulnerability, Tibetans residing in India
without RCs live in a state of fear and insecurity, necessarily keeping a low
profile and avoiding contact with the Indian authorities. Tibetans without RCs
also find it difficult to secure housing because landlords, guesthouses, and
hotels alike tend to require the production of RCs.
They are also unable to secure the use of land or housing within the
settlements. Many Tibetans without RCs therefore move in with friends or family
in what may already be overcrowded accommodations. Tibetans without RCs are also
unable to open bank accounts or get bank loans and have trouble finding
employment because most businesses, including those run by the CTA, make
employment conditional on possession of an RC.
In some states, Tibetans are able
to use their RCs to obtain driver's licenses, which would be more difficult, if
not impossible, without a valid RC. Finally, Tibetans without RCs face
difficulties obtaining benefits or services that the CTA provides to Tibetans
with RCs, including education and medical treatment.
Even those Tibetans who possess RCs have no legal right to renewal of their RCs.
Renewal is generally routine, but it remains subject to the discretion of the
Indian authorities. Tibetan refugees, thus, do not enjoy a permanent legal
status in India. Nor do they have the legal capacity to enforce, in court or
elsewhere, the limited rights conferred by RCs which, more accurately, should
be described as privileges extended as a matter of executive policy and grace
pursuant to the authority vested by the Foreigners Act of 1946 and the
Registration of Foreigners Act of 1939.
Tibetans with RCs are eligible to acquire travel documents known as Identity
Certificates (ICs), which allow them to undertake international travel. ICs
resemble Indian passports in that the cover is imprinted with the Ashoka pillar,
India's national symbol, although the cover is yellow rather than the passport's
dark blue. Not all countries accept IC as valid travel documentation. Even when
traveling to countries that do recognize the IC, such as the U.S., Canada, and
some European states.
Acquisition of IC
Since 2013, Tibetans can apply for an IC online. The supporting documents
required to apply for an IC are a recommendation letter from the Bureau of His
Holiness the Dalai Lama, a valid RC, proof of date of birth, and proof of
address in India. Once the IC application is complete, it is sent to the
Passport Office of the Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi and then to the
authorities in the applicant's state of residence.
The state officials verify the applicant's identity and check to make sure that
applicant resides at the address stated on the application. The Passport Office
of the Ministry of External Affairs is the governmental organ or office that ultimately
While the decision to grant an IC is discretionary, TJC has not been informed of
arbitrary, outright denials, except when the applicant does not live at the
address noted on the application. While denials are infrequent, delays are not.
In the last few years, the process for obtaining ICs has become far more
difficult, with delays of two years increasingly commonplace and some taking as
long as three years to be processed. None of the government offices that handle
the processing of the ICs take responsibility for the delays. In stark contrast,
Indian citizens only have to wait between one and four weeks to receive their
passports after they apply at the exact same office.
Such significant delays of between 1 and 3 years in being granted ICs,
inevitably causes severe difficulties for Tibetans trying to plan international
trips for school or other purposes and opportunities.
There are conflicting reports about the ease with which one can obtain an IC
based on false documents, such as a falsely obtained RC and birth certificate.
One Tibetan official noted that many people have ICs based on false documents,
but unless someone files a complaint against them which is very unlikely the
authorities accept them as genuine. She noted that it is common practice to lie
about being born in India in order to get a birth certificate, an RC and then an
IC. Another Tibetan official reported that phony one-time only
Certificates can be obtained at the airport through bribery.
For an IC to be operational, a number of other official approvals and documents
need to be sought and obtained:
- Exit Permit
Tibetans traveling overseas must relinquish their RCs to the Indian authorities
and then secure an exit permit from the local Foreign Registration Office. The
exit permit is written both on a letter bearing the FRO letterhead and also
directly into the RC. Exit permits can be difficult to obtain and many
applicants complained of having to pay bribes to acquire them. But once
obtained, Tibetans are able to use their IC and their exit permit to exit India.
- NORI stamp
For a Tibetan to gain reentry into India, the IC must be stamped with a No
Objection to Return to India or NORI stamp. In order to receive a NORI stamp,
which must be obtained before departure, the Ministry of External Affairs and
the state government's Department of Home Affairs must issue clearances. Indian
authorities occasionally decline to issue NORI stamps on ICs, particularly if an
applicant is known to have been involved in political activities.
- Return visa
In addition to having a NORI stamp, Tibetans traveling internationally with an
IC must obtain a return visa at the Indian embassy or consulate in the country
they are visiting before returning to India. While there is no guarantee that
the Indian embassy or consulate will issue such a visa.
- Renewal of ICs
ICs are valid for ten years and may be renewed,255 although respondents say that
renewal can sometimes take longer than the initial application process, which is
on average two years. The IC cannot be renewed from abroad, which means that
Tibetans must return to India to renew their ICs. Indian missions will not renew
an IC abroad, apart from two exceptional categories. The two categories are
staff members of Offices of Tibet (essentially the CTA's network of embassies overseas) and students studying abroad. These exceptions came about as a result
of sustained efforts by the CTA. Despite attempts to enlarge these categories,
no other exceptions are recognized.
- Consequences of not having IC
India is not obliged to accept the return of Tibetans with expired documents,
nor is there any legal basis for a Tibetan who has lived in India
without documentation to return to India from overseas. According to the most
senior officials within the Central Tibetan Administration, Tibetans attempting
to return to India without a current IC will not be allowed into India.
- 6.1.3 Special Entry Permits
Special Entry Permits (SEPs) represent a joint initiative of the Indian
government and the CTA, which began in 2003, and regulate Tibetans entering
India from Nepal. Tibetans obtain SEPs in Nepal before they depart for India
from the Tibetan Reception Center in Kathmandu. SEPs ensure Tibetans safe
transit from Nepal to India and then enable them to remain in India for a
designated period of time after arrival.
- Acquisition of SEPs
When a Tibetan refugee arrives at the Nepal Refugee Reception Center, the
Tibetan government asks the Indian Embassy in Nepal for the SEP on behalf of the
refugee. Before a refugee is given an SEP, the Indian embassy verifies the
background and identity documents of the refugee provided by the Nepal Reception
Center to make sure the information is accurate.
The Refugee Reception Center in Dharamsala, India did not know of any instances where a person who had been
processed by the refugee Reception Center in Kathmandu, Nepal was not issued an
SEP. After acquiring an SEP, the Nepal Department of Immigration gives an exit
permit to the Tibetan and then he or she is escorted to India by Refugee
Reception Center staff who ensure that the refugees arrive safely in the Tibetan capital in exile Dharamsala, in Himachal Pradesh, India.
Once at the Refugee Reception Center in Dharamsala, Tibetan staff there liaise
with the local FRO office to issue the new arrivals RCs based on their SEPs.
This process is reportedly straightforward and must be undertaken within two
weeks of the Tibetans entering India.
Categories of SEPs
In 2003, India created four SEP designations:
- Education, and
All of which had different implications for how long the bearer would be
able to stay in India. In 2016, only the Education
designations remain in
use, with Education
being by far the most common designation.
India eliminated the Refugee
designation in 2005. The Pilgrimage
was more recently taken out of usage, as it was thought unhelpful allowing as
it did only a very short-term stay, and expiring after three months with a
possible extension of up to six months. Many Tibetans with pilgrimage SEPs
remained after the expiration of their authorized stay, which rendered them
ineligible for RCs, meaning that they were staying in India illegally.
memorandum from the Government of India Ministry of Home Affairs stated that
Tibetans with pilgrimage SEPs who had overstayed and not regularized their
status by June 30, 2012, will be dealt with under the Foreigners Act 1946 for
. In recognition of this problem, the pilgrimage category was
abolished and an agreement was forged between the CTA and the Government of
India to provide RCs to the approximately 415 Tibetans who had overstayed on the
pilgrimage-based RC. Of the 415, only 300 came forward. The others may have
obtained RCs illegally and were afraid to present themselves.
category SEP is only issued by the Indian government in
extremely rare cases because, in practice, it applies only to special
situations, such as former political prisoners, although one respondent said
that elderly Tibetans sometimes get this categorization, as they cannot be
termed students under an educational SEP. Use of the Other
category is therefore diplomatically
sensitive. Indeed, research suggests that Other
SEPs may have been issued as
few as five or six times to date.
The Reception Center in Dharamsala said no Other
SEPs had been issued in several years. Both the Education
and the Other
SEPs are stamped long-term stay permit.
The SEP category for education
is now the primary way for Tibetans to enter and remain lawfully in India. Most
Tibetans who come to India are individual males (not families) between 18 to 40
years old, leaving the oppressive situation in Tibet and coming to join a
monastery or for other educational purposes.
Whether or not Tibetans have access to birth certificates, which are required in
order to obtain RCs and Identity Certificates, depends in large part on date of
birth. In 2003, an instruction from the Kashag clarified that birth certificates
would be issued by the Indian government rather than the CTA.286 Thus, Tibetans
born after 2003 typically have birth certificates, whereas many Tibetans born
before 2003 do not.
In the past, most births occurred at home rather than at a
hospital, and those births were not officially registered. Today, births
typically occur in hospitals and they are automatically registered. For older
Tibetans, problems regarding birth certificates persist. For those whose births
were not registered, a court proceeding must be commenced which involves police
interrogations and is reportedly a difficult process.
Categories of Legal Status available to Tibetan Refugees
Part II of India's Constitution defines which persons qualified as Indian
citizens on the date of the Constitution's entry into force January 26, 1950.
According to Article 5, citizens include everyone who:
- at the time, had his or her domicile in India and had either been born
in India or had a parent born in India; or
- ordinarily resided in India in the five years immediately preceding the
Constitution's entry into force.
The Constitution does not, however, define citizenship or any process for
acquiring citizenship subsequent to its entry into force. Rather, Article 11 of
the Constitution gives Parliament the general power to regulate citizenship and
naturalization. Parliament exercised this power shortly after the Constitution's
entry into force by enacting the Citizenship Act of 1955, which, as amended by
the Citizenship (Amendment) Acts of 1986 and 2003, specifies how a person may
acquire and lose Indian citizenship subsequent to the effective date of the
Section 3 of the Citizenship Act as amended, governs citizenship by birth. It
provides that every person born in India:
- between January 26, 1950, and July 1, 1987; or
- on or after July 1, 1987 but before the entry into force of the
Citizenship Act of 2003, if one of that person's parents is a citizen of
India at the time of his or her birth; or
- on or after the entry into force of the Citizenship Act of 2003, if both
parents are citizens of India, or if one parent is a citizen of India and
the other is not an illegal migrant, shall be a citizen of India by birth.
Section 4, as amended, governs citizenship by descent. It provides that every
person born outside of India:
- between January 26, 1950, and December 10, 1992, if their father is an
Indian citizen at the time of their birth; or
- on or after December 10, 1992, if either parent is a citizen of India at
the time of their birth, shall be a citizen of India. But if the person's
parent is a citizen of India by descent only, then that person is not
entitled to citizenship unless his or her birth had been registered at an
Indian consulate or unless either parent had been in government service at
the time of the birth.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2003 provides that after its entry into
force, a person cannot acquire citizenship by descent unless the birth is
registered at an Indian consulate within one year of its occurrence or within
one year from the effective date of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, whichever
is later, or with the federal government's permission.
Section 5 of the Citizenship Act, as amended, provides for citizenship by
registration, which is available to;
Section 6, as amended, provides for citizenship by naturalization. The
qualifications for naturalization are set forth in Schedule III. They require
that the applicant;
- persons of Indian origin,
- persons married to citizens of India,
- minor children of citizens,
- adult citizens of India, and
- persons registered as overseas citizens of India for five years who have
resided in India for the previous two years.
- not be an illegal migrant, which is defined as a foreigner who has
entered into India without valid travel documents or has remained beyond the
- denounce the citizenship of any other country;
- reside in India for the preceding twelve months;
- have resided in India for nine of the twelve years preceding that twelve
- have good character;
- speak one language listed in Schedule 8 of the Constitution; and
- intend to reside in India
Finally, the Citizenship Rules of 1956, as amended in 1998, establish further
requirements applicable to the registration and naturalization process.
Applicants must attach affidavits from two respectable Indian citizens
testifying to the character of the applicant; supply certificates attesting to
the applicant's language proficiency; and take an oath of allegiance to India.
Application Procedure for Citizenship
The provisions of Section 3 and 6 of the Citizenship Act of 1955 appear to offer
at least a subset of the population of Tibetans in India access to citizenship.
Taking Section 3 at face value, a substantial number of Tibetans in India are de
jure citizens of India. In reality, it has proved virtually impossible for these
Tibetans to acquire passports to prove their status as citizens, and thus they
remain foreigners in India. For the many Tibetans who don't qualify as citizens
under Section 3, Section 6 would seem to provide a potential path to lawful
naturalization, yet there too, this avenue has been effectively foreclosed to
As to citizenship by birth, Section 3 states that every person born in India
between January 26, 1950 (the date on which India's Constitution entered into
force), and July 1, 1987 (one of the dates on which India's Parliament amended
the Citizenship Act), is an Indian citizen. Despite the plain meaning of this
provision, India has always treated Tibetans born in India during this period
(roughly, that is, the second generation of Tibetans in India who were born to
parents who arrived in the years following the Lhasa Uprising), as foreigners
subject to the Foreigners Act - not as citizens.
The inability of Tibetans, even those born between 1950 and 1987, to secure
citizenship has not changed despite a number of High Court decisions holding
that Tibetans born between those years are entitled to citizenship.
On December 22, 2010, the High Court of Delhi issued a decision in Namgyal
Dolkar v. Ministry of External Affairs. The Court ruled that Ms. Dolkar was
indeed a citizen under the Constitution of India, which explicitly provides that
individuals born in India between January 26, 1950 and July 1, 1987 are citizens
of India.306 In other words, the Court held that Tibetans born in India during
the prescribed dates, regardless of their parentage, enjoy birthright
citizenship comparable to that guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the
The High Court ordered the Government of India to pay Ms. Dolkar 5000 rupees
within one month, although it took five months for the payment to be made. It
took several more months for Ms. Dolkar to actually obtain the passport.
In its decision, the Court observed that, as of July 1, 1987, Parliament
deliberately cut off birthright citizenship, but the relevant amendment to the
Citizenship Act did not and, as a matter of Indian constitutional law, could not
apply retrospectively to deprive those born in India before that date and after
the Constitution's adoption on January 26, 1950, of Indian citizenship.
The Court state:
The policy decision of the MHA [the Ministry of Home Affairs] not to grant
citizenship by naturalisation under Section 6(1) [of the Citizenship Act, as
amended] is not relevant in the instant case. Having been born in India after
26th January 1950 and before 1st July 1987, the Petitioner is undoubtedly an
Indian citizen by birth in terms of Section 3(1)(a) [of the Act.]
Indeed, the Karnataka High Court did just that when it granted citizenship to
Tenzin Choephag Ling Rinpoche who was born in Dharamsala in 1985. He was denied
a passport by the Regional Passport Office, which had consulted the Ministry of
Home Affairs before issuing its denial. The Ministry's position was that
Tibetans are not eligible for citizenship pursuant to Section 3 of the
Citizenship Act despite the fact that they were born in India between 1950 and
In August 2013, in Tenzin Choephag Ling Rinpoche v. Union of India
Karnataka High Court ruled in accord with the Dolkar case, holding that anyone
born in India between the January 26, 1950 and July 1, 1987 are citizens
pursuant to the Citizenship Act.
At least two additional Delhi High Court decisions have been rendered directing
the Government of India to issue passports to Tibetans entitled to birthright
citizenship.As in the previous High Court cases, government officials
steadfastly refused to grant passports to Tibetans born within the designated
years until directly ordered to do so by the High Court. Despite these High
Court decisions, the policy of the Government of India has not changed.
Regardless of the year of their birth, Tibetans are considered ineligible for
citizenship as a matter of national policy. In fact, Namgyal Dolkar, the named
plaintiff in the Delhi High Court case, reports that she regularly receives
calls from Tibetans all over India who were born in India between 1950 and 1987
yet have been unable to secure passports. They report that when they apply for a
passport, they are ignored or denied even though they have the proper documents,
particularly a birth certificate proving their age and place of birth.
The continued refusal of the Government of India to treat Tibetans born between
1950 and 1987 as citizens was recently challenged in what could turn out to be a
landmark case filed on May 13, 2016- landmark because it directly challenges
the Government of India's policy. The case was brought by Lobsang Wangyal who
was born in India in 1970 and thus is eligible for birthright citizenship under
the Citizenship Act. Despite that, his application for a passport was denied
because he is of Tibetan descent.
Thus, despite the Delhi and Karnataka High Court decisions, the on-the-ground
reality for Tibetans seeking birthright citizenship has not changed. Tibetans
born between the designated years are still routinely denied passports and it
appears that the only way to enforce the provisions of the Citizenship Act is to
hire a lawyer to contest the denial in High Court. This is not a realistic
option for the vast majority of Tibetans.
As for citizenship by naturalization, the text of the Citizenship Act, as
amended, suggests that Tibetans who have resided in India for ten years should
be eligible for citizenship under Section 6 of the Act. But, among other
problematic criteria for Tibetans, Section 6 requires that the applicant not be
from a country that denies citizenship to Indians. In theory, China's
Nationality Law satisfies this criterion, for it provides generally that foreign
nationals who are willing to abide by China's Constitution and laws
naturalized if they are close relatives of Chinese nationals, have settled in
China, or have other legitimate
reasons.320 But it is not clear that most
Tibetans in India are Chinese nationals;
they are more accurately described as
At any rate, citizenship by naturalization has not, in practice, ever been a
realistic option for Tibetans. The U.S. Department of Citizenship and
Immigration Services, UNHCR, and the Immigration and Refugee Board of
Canada, uniformly confirm that Tibetans cannot become citizens in this way
despite their apparent eligibility under Section 6 of the Citizenship Act, as
Significance of Acquiring Citizenship
The significance of citizenship for Tibetan communities in India cannot be
overstated, as it would affect many areas of their lives. Some constitutional
rights, for example, including the rights to freedom of speech and association,
vest in all citizens
as opposed to all persons.
citizens of India could bring constitutional challenges to the practice of
repressing Tibetan demonstrations. No longer would it be obvious that the Indian
government's policy in this regard can be followed without the risk of violating
the constitutional rights of Indian citizens. Also, it would appear that the
children of Tibetans granted citizenship would themselves qualify for
citizenship under Section 3 of the Citizenship Act.
Without citizenship, Tibetans may not participate in India's political
processes hold Indian government jobs and obtain the perquisites that accompany
such positions or own property absent approval from the Reserve Bank of India,
which is reportedly very difficult to obtain. They also do not qualify for most
of the seats in postsecondary educational institutions and if they do gain
admissions, they pay more for their education. Tibetans also may not legally own
companies or shares in companies.
Although in many states Tibetans with RCs can apply for small business licenses,
Tibetans cannot obtain the licenses necessary for running substantial
businesses, and in some states they are unable to obtain any kind of business
license and so must rent
them from Indian citizens. Some professionals are
unable to get licenses to practice in India. Further, whether any of these
restrictions will be altered as a result of the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy
2014, discussed in Part VI below, remains to be seen.
Voting Rights of Tibetan Refugees
As foreigners, Tibetans are ineligible to vote in Indian elections. However, on
February 7, 2014, the Election Commission of India issued a directive to the
states to enroll Tibetans born between January 26, 1950 and July 1, 1987. This
directive followed the Karnataka High Court decision described above which held
that, pursuant to Section 3 of the Citizenship Act, Tibetans born between 1950
and 1987 are citizens of India.
The directive states, ss per Section 3(1)(a) of
the Citizenship Act, 1955, the children born to Tibetan Refugees in India shall
be treated as Indian citizens based on their birth in India, on or after 26th
January, 1950 and before 1st July, 1987. Hence, notwithstanding anything
contained in Union Home Ministry letter dated 26th August, 2011 conveyed to all
CEOs vide ECI letter dated 27th September, 2011, the Commission clarifies that
the EROs concerned should not deny enrolment to the children of Tibetan refugees
where they are satisfied that:
Foreigner's Act, 1946
- the applicant was born in India,
- he/she was born on or after 26th January, 1950 but before 1st July,
- he/she is ordinarily resident in the constituency in which the
application for enrolment has been made.
The Foreigners Act defines foreigners in the negative, that is, as all persons
other than citizens of India. It also authorizes the central government to make
provision, either generally or with respect to all foreigners or with respect to
any particular foreigner or any prescribed class or description of foreigner . .
The Foreigners Act empowers the government:
- To prohibit, regulate, and restrict foreigners' entry into India or
their departure from India; 
- To limit their freedom of movement; 
- To require them to reside in a particular place, furnish proof of
identity, and report to designated authorities at prescribed intervals;
- To submit to photographing and fingerprinting at designated times by
designated authorities, as well as to medical examinations; and 
- To prohibit them from association with persons of a designated
description, from engaging in designated activities, and from using or
possessing designated articles. 
The Foreigners (Amendment) Act prescribes the penalties for violating the
Foreigners Act. Section 14A provides that any foreigner who enters or stays
in India without valid documentation is subject to imprisonment for a term of
two to eight years and to a fine of between 10,000 and 50,000 rupees.
The Registration of Foreigners Act defines foreigners in the same way as the
Foreigners Act, and authorizes the national government to promulgate regulations
governing foreigners' activities. For example, the Act empowers the government
to require foreigners to:
- Report their presence to prescribed authorities at designated intervals;
- Report their movements within India and internationally; and 
- Provide proof of identity to authorities and hotel managers.
To this day, Tibetans in India remain foreigners
within the meaning of the
Foreigners Act of 1946 and the Registration of Foreigners Act of 1939. As
foreigners, Tibetans generally cannot become citizens (with one exception
discussed in Part IV(D) below); travel freely, either within India or
internationally; own property in their own name; hold government or other public
jobs; or qualify for resident rates at most government- funded schools.
- Namgyal Dolkar v. Ministry of External Affairs, W.P.12179/2009 (High
Court of Delhi) (India), December 22, 2010
- Tenzin Choephag Ling Rinpoche v. Union of India, 15437/2013 (High Court
of Karnataka) (India) August 7, 2013.
- Phuntsok Topden v. Union of India, W.P.(C) 1890/2013 and Tenzin Jigme v.
Union of India, W.P.(C) 6137/2014.
- The Foreigners Act, No. 31 of 1946 Sec 3(1); India Code (1993)
- The Foreigners Act, No. 31 of 1946 Sec 3(1); India Code (1993),
- Id. Sec 3(2)(a)-(b), (d), (e)(ii).
- Id. Sec 3(e)(i).
- Id. Sec 3(e)(iii).
- Id. Sec 3(e)(iii).
- Foreigners (Amendment) Act, 2003.
- Id. Sec 14A(b).
- The Registration of Foreigners Act, 1939 Sec 3(1)(a).
- Id. Sec 3(1)(b)-(d).
- Id. Sec 3(1)(e).
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