What is an NRI? - How Indians Classify Life Abroad

NRI is one of several abbreviations and words referring to Indians abroad. Let’s look at a few common abbreviations and words people from India use when describing themselves as foreigners or overseas residents. 

What does NRI stand for?  
The expansion of NRI is "Non-Resident Indian." NRI is an abbreviation Indians in India and Indians living abroad use to describe any Indian who: 
  • Currently lives abroad – My batchmate from BITS Pilani is an NRI living in Boston.
  • Has lived abroad in the past – My parents used to be NRIs when they lived in Kuwait.
  • Considering living abroad – Did you know if you get your F1, you will soon become an NRI?
  • In the process of moving abroad (permanently or temporarily) – When Sanal worked for two years onsite, his H1B gave him the status of an NRI.
What is an NRK? 
Similar to NRI, NR stands for Non-Resident. In this case, K stands for Keralite. A Keralite is an Indian who comes from the state of Kerala in southwestern India (a synonym for Keralite is Malayalee). Non-Resident Keralites are aplenty in the Gulf – the United Arab Emirates (UAE – Dubai), Oman (Muscat), Qatar (Doha), Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. Although Kerala ranks #22 out of the 36 Indian states and Union Territories, in terms of area, Kerala boasts five international airports (Cochin, Trivandrum, Calicut, Aranmula, Kannur) to support the more than 2.5 million Kerala Gulf Diaspora living and working in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. 

An NRI or NRK could either be an Indian passport holder with a foreign visa or a foreign passport holder (change of citizenship). Note that NRIs, NRKs or any foreigners living in the GCC countries are not allowed to take citizenship of a GCC country. 

Do Indians from other states have an NR abbreviation? 
As Indians identify their roots per each state, it's possible there are NRKs from Karnataka or NRWBs from West Bengal, or others. I am not familiar with those abbreviations, but it's possible they exist. More common however, may be the cultural associations for each Indian area or state abroad. For instance, in the U.S., Indians (or Americans that want to make Indian friends or learn about Indian regional cultures), can look for associations named after Indian states like, Orissa cultural association or Tamil Nadu cultural clubs. Also common are cultural groups named after a language group; such as Marathi Association or Telugu Association. 

What is NORKA? 
NORKA stands for Non-Resident Keralite Affairs. Also known as NORKA-Roots, this a department of the Government of Kerala formed on 6 December 1996 to redress the grievances of Non-Resident Keralites (NRKs). NORKA has 16 offices in India, 6 of which are not located in Kerala. The photo to the right is the NORKA office in Kozhikode (Calicut) India. 

What does Pravasi mean?
This word is a Hindi word (could also be present in other Indian languages). Pravasi could mean either DIASPORA or EXPATRIATE. Pravasi is a word used all over India. There are also workshops, support groups and conferences for in the interest of pravasi groups. One of the most famous gatherings that happens in a different Indian metro once a year is the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas. I missed the 2013 gathering in Kochi, Kerala. The [January] 2016 event will be held in Delhi.

What is a Desi?
Desi is pronounced as day-see or day-shee (depending on where they are from in India). Desi and daisy are not pronounced the same! A desi is someone from the country or the land. Often NRIs refer to themselves as Desi. The term “Desi” is not restricted for Indians. A person from any of the South Asian countries, such as India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh can refer to themselves as a Desi. 

Who is a Pardesi?
Pardesi is a Hindi word, commonly used in Bollywood songs. Pardesis could be people who are foreigners to India (an American expat living in India), a person from a different part of India (a person from Tamil Nadu living in Calcutta), or an Indian who has lived abroad or in a different state for some time. As this word is not so common as the others, the meanings for this word could be vague or outdated. Feel free to share any feedback in the comments section if desired. 

What other words or phrases have you come across or know about that refer to expat lifestyle in India? Share your feedback in the comments section. Thank you.

Jennifer Kumar, author of this post, is the Managing Director of Authentic Journeys. An American expat living in India, she provides cross-cultural business programs to help your international, distributed and cross-border teams work effectively across global borders. Contact us for more information. 

If you are an NRI visiting India, especially Kerala for a few weeks or a few months, and are looking for a custom made course to help you succeed working with people from the US, UK, Canada, Australia or New Zealand, contact us today. 

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