The math doesn’t add up, like the broken immigration system of the US.
By Sujeet Rajan
NEW YORK: The arrest of Dr. Devyani Khobragade, the Deputy Consul General of India in New York, is yet another big pointer to the broken immigration system in the United States, which is riddled with contentious laws, ridiculous loopholes and broken promises, and is as exploitative as it is exploited.
Khobragade, 39, was arrested last Thursday in the streets of Manhattan in a similar fashion to that of apprehending a wanted mobster – surrounded by US marshals as she left her two young daughters to school, handcuffed, taken to jail, strip searched, and jailed like a criminal. She was later released after six hours in jail, on a bail bond of $250,000. She has to appear in court on January 13th. If convicted of charges of visa fraud and false statements to the US government, she faces 10 years of jail time.
Khobragade was probably tracked for days, weeks or even months by law enforcement agencies to get a pattern of her travel at fixed times outside the Consulate, and a day decided beforehand to nab her, with the nod coming likely from authorities outside of New York City.
Khobragade’s crime: allegations by a maid, Sangeeta Richard, she sponsored from India – who has been absconding since June of this year, and had worked in Khobragade’s service for six months before that – that she was paid only $3.31 an hour, as compared to $9.75 that the minimum wage law in New York City demanded. When the maid’s visa was processed, her wages were determined to be at $4,500 per month, for fixed number of working hours. Khobragade’s salary: $4,120 per month.
According to the US immigration rules, to apply for an A-3 visa (for a maid or babysitter), the visa applicant must submit an employment contract signed by both the employer and the employee which must include, among other things, a description of duties, hours of work, the hourly wage – which must be the greater of the minimum wage under U.S. federal and state law, or the prevailing wage – for all working hours, overtime work, and payment.
It seems the US immigration is doing something similar to what the banks here used to do: get mired in the sub-prime mortgage crisis that ultimately led to the housing debacle and the crash in the economy: unreasonable, irrational lending.
If the banks lent money to people who could not afford to buy a car, forget a mortgage, then the immigration is giving visas for maids to people who can barely manage to eke out a decent living in New York City at around $4,000 dollars a month salary.
Of course, it helps that Khobragade lives in a house paid for by the government, and also got money to pay for school for her children. Otherwise she would not be able to survive financially in the city on the salary that she makes. Forget about having a maid.
According to the allegations against her, Khobragade and her maid had agreed that Khobragade would pay 30,000 rupees per month, which at the time was equivalent to $573.07. At 40 hours per week, with approximately 4.3 weeks in a month, $573.07 equates to a rate of $3.31 per hour. However, the complaint says, Khobragade instructed her maid to say that she would be paid $9.75 per hour, and not to say anything about being paid 30,000 rupees per month. Khobragade also instructed the maid to say that she would work 40 hours per week, with duty hours being 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Khobragade, it’s alleged, told the maid that the amount of $4,500 per month was a US prerequisite to get a visa.
Now, as important as it is to ask who decided to process the maid’s visa in India in the first place, given Khobragade’s salary, it is also important to ask as to where did this number of $4,500 come from?
Let’s do a quick math (with calculators): $9.75 x 40 (hours of work per week) is equal to $390. In a month with 4 weeks, Khobragade’s maid, Sangeeta Richard, would make $1,560. In the five months of the year with five weeks, she would make $1,950. A full time year (at 40 hours a week) is equal to 2,080 hours, which means the annual salary for her would be $20,280, almost one third of what the US government wanted Khobragade to pay her maid – $54,000 annually.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a maid and housekeeper in the US earned an average median salary of $19,390 in 2011, or approximately $9.32 per hour. That year, there were 111, 600 individuals working such jobs in the country. In comparison, a restaurant cook’s median salary is $22,080; a security guard makes $23, 900; a pre-school teacher made $26,620; a sports coach $28,470; Bookkeeping, Accounting, & Audit Clerks made $34,740, while a bus driver made 35,720, and a marriage and family therapist’s median salary was $46,240, just a bit more than what Khobragade’s maid was supposed to be paid.
But then Sangeeta Richard was employed as a maid and housekeeper, not as a marriage and family therapist. Her salary should be closer to $20,000.
For argument sake, one can also ponder on what if Khobragade had told the maid that I will pay you Rs. 30,000 (which is equivalent to $500), after deducting health care insurance, food and housing costs from your salary. If that was the case, if accommodation, food and health care cost is calculated at $1,000 or so per month – which is more than reasonable in New York City, then what Khobragade decided as salary for her maid was close to what Richard would have made as an independent maid in New York, living on her own, having to take care of her own expenses, including accommodation.
Coming back to the point.
Can somebody please solve the mystery of why Sangeeta Richard, the maid of Devyani Khobragade, was to be paid $54,000 a year, and not $20,280?
(Sujeet Rajan is the Editor-in-Chief of The American Bazaar.)
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