Khobragade effect carries on.
By Deepak Chitnis
WASHINGTON, DC: The Indian government will pursue charges against the American Embassy School (AES) in New Delhi, which has been accused of breaking visa and tax laws to bring in teachers from foreign countries.
The controversy over AES first came to the fore in January of this year, when a New York Times report uncovered an under-the-table hiring practice allegedly employed by the school. According to the report, female teachers whose husbands were also employed by the school were instructed to file themselves as housewives on their visa applications, rather than as teachers. This was apparently done to expedite the visa process, but is also a violation of Indiaâ€™s income tax laws.
The report estimated that a number of teachers at AES were teaching there under faulty paperwork, putting the prestigious institution â€“ tuition costs run more than $20,000 per year â€“ in a potentially embarrassing situation. About one-third of the schoolâ€™s 1,500 students are of US origin. A further 20% come from South Korea, while the rest are originally from roughly 12 other nations.
India did not immediately press charges in the case, mostly because the US and India were still embroiled in the immediate aftermath of Devyani Khobragadeâ€™s arrest on December 12. Now, however, just two weeks after the case against Khobragade was re-filed by US attorney Preet Bharara, and after several attacks on Indiaâ€™s pharmaceutical, airline, and solar energy sectors by US agencies, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has said that they will pursue the charges.
Reports say that a spokesperson for the MEA said that the desire to prosecute the case has been conveyed to the US, but that India is still waiting on several factors before going full steam ahead. Those factors include a request for all visa documentation regarding the teachers at AES, which was made back in December but has not yet been fulfilled.
The US Department of State, however, has said that the US Embassy in New Delhi does not actually run the school, and is therefore not liable for any offenses its staff may have committed. Additionally, the US has reportedly tried to argue that because only about 500 students are American, they cannot be held solely culpable for any laws that may have been broken.
The US Embassy in New Delhi has also come under criticism in recent months, particularly for a diplomatic couple that was fired from the Embassy around the same time that the AES scandal first broke. Wayne and Alicia Muller May â€“ the head of security at the Embassy and the Embassyâ€™s community liaison officer, respectively â€“ were found to have made several disparaging and racist remarks about India on social media, prompting their dismissals.
If and when the case goes to trial, it is not yet clear exactly what the outcome would be if AES is found guilty of using illegal practices in hiring its instructors. While itâ€™s safe to assume that the teachers in question will likely be deported, questions regarding punitive actions remain, not to mention what this could do to the strained US-India relationship.
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