Maritime body MUI seeks government intervention to enable seafarers qualify for NRI status

Maritime body MUI on Tuesday sought the government’s intervention for enabling seafarers qualify for Non Resident Indian (NRI) status for the current fiscal year.

To qualify for NRI status, like any other citizen of India, an Indian seafarer too has to be outside India for 182 days, or six months in a year and consequently, his entire foreign income is not subjected to tax, it said.

“MUI has sought an urgent intervention of the Shipping Ministry of India to enable Indian seafarers qualify for the Non-Resident Indian or NRI status for financial year 2020-21,” India’s oldest union of merchant navy officers, Maritime Union of India (MUI) said.

In a signed letter submitted to the Shipping Ministry, it said amongst problems such as crew changes from foreign ports, the COVID-19 pandemic has posed a very critical challenge for Indian seafarers as far as their income and liability to pay income tax is concerned.

“It is to be understood that on one hand, Indian seafarers who were serving on ships when major lockdowns were announced worldwide could not be brought home. On the other hand, those seafarers who were waiting to join or were on leave could not join ships to replace those returning home.

“As a result of this dual challenge, the seafarers on shore have not been in a position to fulfill the officially declared criteria of working outside India for more than 182 days in a year to qualify as NRI,” MUI General Secretary Amar Singh Thakur said.

The letter states that it must be appreciated that the prime asset of the merchant shipping industry are the seafarers who continue to work without interruption even when all other modes of transport and most businesses have ceased work during the ongoing pandemic.

Seafarers continue to provide essential goods all around the globe, working onboard ships, away from their families, who have to face challenges all alone at home, it said and added that the seafarers have always brought valuable foreign exchange to the country.

The letter said the issue has already badly affected employment prospects, and it appears this will continue to do so in the coming months.

“In order to improve morale of our seafarers, we seriously need to be fair to them and grant exemption from income tax for the financial year 2020-21 since the pandemic continues to hamper their jobs,” it said.

Therefore, MUI would like to appeal to the Shipping Ministry to acknowledge this issue, and ensure appropriate circular to exempt those Indian seafarers who are not in a position to qualify as NRI for no fault of theirs, it added.

“The entire shipping industry in India is in agreement with our sentiment, and we are certain that our appeal is the given urgent attention in the interest of Indian seafarers,” Thakur, who met senior officials of Shipping Ministry, said.