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American schools in India under visa scrutiny

Reports saying school asked teachers to be "economical with truth" prompt official investigation amid diplomatic spat.

Last updated: 17 Jan 2014 06:09
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Devyani Khobragade, left, faces charges of under paying her domestic help [Reuters]

India has said it will examine reports of visa and tax violations by teachers in the American School within the US embassy in Delhi and other cities such as Mumbai and Chennai.

The announcement on Thursday is the latest development in arguments between New Delhi and Washington over the arrest and subsequent expulsion of an Indian envoy over allegations of under paying her domestic help in December.

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

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Reports of an official email sent by the American School in Delhi to its teachers to be “economical with the truth” over their visa status was published recently. 

According to a 1973 understanding between India and the US, 16 teachers of the school have "tax exempted status". In the case of couples, both working as teachers, if the salary of a wife is added to her husband’s it amounts to misuse of privileges and circumventing the country’s tax laws, says a report in The Hindustan Times. 

“So, if you’re a teaching couple, we usually have the male spouse apply for ‘employment’ visa and the female spouse be noted as a ‘housewife’ on the visa application,’ read the circular that added, “no sexism is intended on our part”, according to a New York Times report.  

Reports in The Hindu say that “at least 16 teachers are working illegally in the school”. 

Tax exemptions

The school set within US diplomatic area has facilities that include a swimming pool and playgrounds. It has about 1500 students, Five hundred are Americans and the rest from other embassies and children of American expatriates working in India.     

On Tuesday, India’s ambassador to US S Jaishankar raised the issue of tax exemption given to US nationals working in American embassy schools. 

A media note from US deputy secretary of state William Burns said that the US government takes these concerns “seriously” and will address them “through diplomatic channels”.

The developments came weeks after Indian envoy Devyani Khobragade returned to India after being indicted in a US court for minimum wage violations, a charge denied by her.

Her arrest during which she was reportedly strip-searched stoked public anger in India, prompting New Delhi to expel one US diplomat in an apparent tit-for-tat response.

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