School, run from diplomatic premises, asked teachers to be economical with truth about visa status

An internal e-mail sent by the American School to its teachers here, asking them to be economical with the truth about their visa status, is “a serious issue relating to visa and tax matters,” External Affairs Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said on Thursday. “We are examining them carefully,” he said.

The circular sent by the school, being run from U.S. diplomatic premises, pointed out that India placed restrictions on the number of tax-free visas available to its employees. “So, if you are a teaching couple, we usually have the male spouse apply for the ‘employment’ visa and the female spouse be noted as ‘housewife’ on the visa application.”

Government sources said at least 16 teachers, all foreigners, were working illegally in the school. They felt similar schools being run by the U.S. consulates in Mumbai and Chennai should also have teachers working illegally.

The school here has a swimming pool, tennis courts and playgrounds. The fee is over Rs. 10 lakh annually. It has about 1,500 students, of whom 500 are Americans, about 800 from other embassies and the remaining mostly children of American expatriates working here as company executives and journalists.

India asked for details of teachers and their salary structure but the U.S. sought time. Earlier this week, following a meeting between top U.S. diplomat Williams Burns and India’s Ambassador to the U.S. S. Jaishankar, both countries seemed to have turned the page after a nearly month-long deadlock over the arrest and filing of a case against Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York on December 12.

But the issue figured in Mr. Jaishankar’s meeting, with Mr. Burns stating the U.S. took Indian concerns seriously and assuring him it would address them through diplomatic channels.

However, the revelation in the internal e-mail that suggests “some kind of wrongdoing” might make it difficult for India to let matters pass, said a government official.

When asked, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid had said India was unlikely to restore the special exemptions to U.S. diplomats that are not available to their Indian counterparts posted in the U.S.

After Ms. Khobragade was asked to leave the U.S., India also asked a U.S. Embassy official, who had played an active part in her travails, to leave the country.

On the other hand, at least 14 other Indian diplomats posted in the U.S. have full time ‘India-based domestic assistants’ and it is highly unlikely that any of them is paid the minimum wages according to American laws. The Indian diplomatic community has been asking the government to foot the bill for such assistants in the U.S. and Europe, where the minimum wages are high.

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