By Arun Kumar
Washington, Jan 17:
With the American Embassy School in New Delhi under the scanner for alleged violation of India’s tax and visa laws, the US sought to sidetrack the issue by suggesting that it was not run by the embassy.
Asked to comment on a New York Times report Thursday that female spouses of couples intending to teach at the school were asked to list their occupation on visa applications as “housewife,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki instead offered a bit of “history”.
“Let me give you all a little more history here,” she said. “Since 1952, when the Embassy exchanged diplomatic notes with the Government of India to establish the American Embassy school, the school has succeeded in providing an international education in New Delhi for the children of diplomatic and expat business communities.”
“It is not run by the Embassy. Only about a third of the students there are American,” Psaki said. But “We are in discussion with the Government of India regarding issues they have raised concerning the school.”
US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns had “discussed these very issues” with Indian Ambassador S. Jaishankar “earlier this week,” she said.
“And we are committed to resolving them through diplomatic channels and to addressing the concerns that have been raised.”
Asked if the US government took no responsibility for the school even though it was located within the embassy compound, she repeated “We’re committed to addressing these concerns that have been raised.”
“We’ll work those through diplomatic channels, and we’ve already had conversations at a very high level about them.”
The American Embassy School has come under the scanner as a fallout of the retaliatory steps taken by New Delhi to pare down the privileges of US diplomats in India over the Dec 12 arrest and strip-search of Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York.
As part of a deal to defuse the situation, Khobragade has since returned to India after New Delhi declined to waive her diplomatic immunity despite her indictment by a New York grand jury on charges of visa fraud and underpaying her nanny.
Several American teachers, who are spouses of US diplomats, reportedly work at the American school without legal work permits in violation of Indian laws.
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 Times report said.
Referring to the Times report India’s external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin described these as “serious issues relating to visa and tax matters” that India “will examine them very carefully.”