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India detects ‘visa fraud and tax evasion’ in US Embassy school

India puts school under scanner after it asked couples not to declare both jobs, officials say teachers’ spouses working without paying tax.

India has reportedly detected violation of visa and tax laws in the American Embassy School in New Delhi. A number of teachers are working there illegally, allege Indian government sources.

This comes after the arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York for visa fraud relating to her claims about the wages she was paying her housekeeper Sangeeta Richard. Since then, New Delhi has carried out three weeks of investigations, including the scrutiny of bank accounts and school records.

The New York Times reported Thursday that a handout released by the school ensnared it in the diplomatic row. Addressed to new teacher couples, the handout asks spouses to list their occupation on visa applications as “housewife” and not to declare that they would be working.
This amounts to visa fraud, say Indian government sources contacted by The Indian Express.

They cite a 1973 agreement under which 16 American teachers are to be given visas with “tax-free” status; any teachers beyond that number would have to pay tax.

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The sources allege the school has been hiring couples in what they call a “piggyback” scheme, with one partner coming on a “work” visa and the spouse on a “spouse” visa.  The salary of the spouse, too, is allegedly being credited to the bank account of the partner on a work visa, so that the spouse could evade tax. This is an “institutionalised fraud”, one source told The Indian Express.
The sources said the school charges up to $30,000 a year as fees. Located next to the embassy, it has about 1,500 students, nearly 500 of them American. The rest include some Indians.
The  New York Times report quoted a senior Indian official as estimating that the school has at least 16 teachers working illegally.
“We have seen reports (about the school),” external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told The Indian Express. “These are serious matters relating to the Indian visa regime and tax laws. We will examine them very carefully and take appropriate decision.”
The US embassy, when contacted, did not comment on India’s allegations. It drew attention to a US statement released early this week that said issues pertaining to the school are among those raised by the external affairs ministry with the US government and which figured in discussions between Deputy Secretary of State William J Burns and Indian Ambassador S Jaishankar in Washington. “Deputy Secretary Burns conveyed that we take their concerns very seriously and will continue to address them via appropriate diplomatic channels,” the statement said.

First published on: 17-01-2014 at 01:52:36 am
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