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American School under scanner for violation of visa, tax laws

New Delhi, Jan 16 (IANS) The American Embassy School, located within the US embassy compound in New Delhi, is under the scanner for alleged violation of India’s tax and visa laws – a fallout of the reciprocal measures taken by New Delhi to pare down the privileges of US diplomats in India over the Devyani Khobragade episode.

As the US and India continue with business as usual in the aftermath of the fracas over the handcuffing and strip-search of Indian diplomat Khobragade, reports said several American teachers, who are spouses of US diplomats, work at the American school without legal work permits in violation of Indian laws.

A New York Times report Thursday said the school has issued a handout to staffers saying that women teachers whose husbands would be teaching at the school should not reveal that they will be teaching too.

“The female spouse should not state that she will be working,” the handout stated, instructing spouses to list their occupation on visa applications as “housewife”, adding that “no sexism is intended on our part”, according to the NYT report.

Khobragade, then India’s deputy consul general in New York, was arrested Dec 12 for alleged visa fraud – charges she has denied.

In a reciprocal move, India withdrew several diplomatic privileges from US diplomats including airport passes and diplomatic ID cards and also asked to be informed about the number of teachers working in American schools in India and their salaries.

India has also asked that salaries that the US embassy and consulates pay their Indian staff be conveyed.

The American Embassy School handout “notes that India has placed restrictions on the number of tax-free visas available to school employees”.

“So, if you are a teaching couple,” the handout says, “we usually have the male spouse apply for the ’employment’ visa and the female spouse be noted as ‘housewife’ on the visa application,” the NYT said.

India’s external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said: “We are aware of these reports. These are serious issues relating to visa and tax matters. We will examine them very carefully.”

The Khobragade incident led to a nasty stand-off between the US and India.

However, after she returned to India last week both sides have attempted to return to business as usual.

On Tuesday, US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns hosted a “productive” lunch meeting with Indian Ambassador S. Jaishankar and both sides affirmed the importance of the US-India strategic partnership.

The fact that spouses of some American diplomats were working as teachers in the school was well known. It had been going on for many years as part of the “wink and nod” agreement between the two sides.

In the same manner, Khobragade was allowed to take her domestic help Sangeeta Richard along with her by agreeing to pay the US equivalent salary to her, which Indians cannot afford, said a source.

The US is keen to put aside the Khobragade incident and move ahead with its bilateral ties with India – built steadily over the years, said a source, adding that the Burns-Jaishankar meeting was a firm statement of its intent.

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