DEVYANI Khobragade, 39, Deputy Consul General for Political, Economic, Commercial and Women’s Affairs at the Consulate General of India in New York, has been arrested on charges that she allegedly caused a materially false and fraudulent document to be presented, and materially false and fraudulent statements to be made, to the United States Department of State in support of a visa application for an Indian national employed as a babysitter and housekeeper at her home in New York.
The announcement was made on Thursday by Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Bharara said: “Foreign nationals brought to the United States to serve as domestic workers are entitled to the same protections against exploitation as those afforded to United States citizens. The false statements and fraud alleged to have occurred here were designed to circumvent those protections so that a visa would issue for a domestic worker who was promised far less than a fair wage. This type of fraud on the United States and exploitation of an individual will not be tolerated.”
According to the allegations in the criminal complaint unsealed in Manhattan federal court, diplomats and consular officers may obtain A-3 visas for their personal employees, domestic workers, and servants if they meet the requirements set out in 9 Foreign Affairs Manual (“FAM”) 41.22. As part of the application process, an interview at the embassy or consulate is required. Proof is required that the applicant will receive a fair wage, sufficient to support himself financially, comparable to that being offered in the area of employment in the U.S. To apply for an A-3 visa, 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.
Khobragade prepared and electronically submitted an application for an A-3 visa through the website for the U.S. Department of State’s Consular Electronic Application Center for the Indian national, who was to be her personal employee beginning in November 2012 at an address in New York, New York. The visa application stated that the she was to be paid $4,500 per month in U.S. dollars. Khobragade and the employee also signed an employment contract for her to bring to an interview at the U.S. Embassy in India in connection with the visa application, which she did at Khobragade’s direction. The First Employment Contract stated, among other things, that Khobragade would pay the employee the prevailing or minimum wage, whichever is greater, resulting in an hourly salary of $9.75.
Khobragade knew that the First Employment Contract that she caused the employee to submit to the U.S. State Department in connection with her visa application contained materially false and fraudulent statements about, among other things, her hourly wage and hours worked. Prior to the signing of the First Employment Contract, Khobragade and the employee had agreed that Khobragade would pay 30,000 rupees per month, which at the time was equivalent to $573.07 U.S. 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, Khobragade instructed the employee 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 employee to say that she would work 40 hours per week, and that her duty hours would be 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. She told the employee that the First Employment Contract was a formality to get the visa.
After the First Employment Contract was submitted to the United States Department of State, Khobragade told the employee that she needed to sign another employment contract. Khobragade and the employee signed the Second Employment Contract, which provided that her maximum salary per month including overtime allowance will not exceed 30,000 rupees per month. The Second Employment Contract does not contain any provision about the normal number of working hours per week or month.
The Indian national worked for Khobragade as a household employee in New York, New York, from approximately November 2012 through approximately June 2013. Notwithstanding the terms of the First Employment Contract, she worked far more than 40 hours per week, and was paid less than $9.75 per hour by Khobragade. In fact, notwithstanding the terms of the oral agreement between Khobragade and the employee and the terms of the Second Employment Contract, she was paid less than 30,000 rupees per month, or $3.31 per hour.
Khobragade was charged with one count of visa fraud and one count of making false statements, which carry maximum sentences of 10 years and five years in prison, respectively.
Bharara thanked the Department of Justice’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit for playing an integral role in this investigation, and for providing ongoing support in this prosecution. The Office’s Organized Crime Unit is handling the case.
The charges contained in the complaint are merely an accusation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
-ASIAN JOURNAL REPORT