Victims decry India's ministry of external affairs’ ‘vengeful’ decision to stop them from leaving the country if they have a ‘T’ visa affixed on their passports. George Joseph/Rediff.com reports from New York.
The arrest of diplomat Dr Devyani Khobragade may be a thing of the past but it seems officials in India are not in a mood to forgive or forget.
The victims of their wrath are a few who have been issued ‘T’ visas in the United States.
The victims, who protested outside the Indian consulate in Houston recently, say they are being targeted because Sangeeta Richard, the maid who accused Dr Devyani of ill-treatment, had been issued a ‘T’ visa.
“About 60-70 families joined the protest and handed over a memorandum to the consulate authorities,” Sabulal Vijayan, one of the activists said.
People who went to India with ‘T’ visas on their passport were not allowed to return to the US. Their passports were impounded at Hyderabad, Chennai and Kochi airports.
Some are green card holders (those with permanent resident status in the US), but since the officials found ‘T’ visa affixed on their passport earlier, they too were turned away. Authorities told them that the passports will not be returned for another three years.
Students studying in US schools are among the victims. Some were in India visiting sick family members.
A case has been filed in the Kerala high court challenging the decision to disallow those with ‘T’ visas to travel to the US.
The victims of the rule are the same who suffered at the marine fabrication company ‘Signal International’ in Pascagoula, Mississippi in 2005-6.
After ill-treatment and working in prison like conditions, more than 500 workers walked away from the company in 2006 and organised protests attracting international attention.
They presented themselves as victims of human trafficking before the Department of Justice. They also filed a class action suit against the company, their recruiters, both in the US and India. “The case is still going on. There were some moves for settling the case out of the court, which did not succeed,” Vijayn said.
All of them had paid Rs 6-8 lakh to get H2-B visas, which is given to seasonal workers ($15-20,000).
Mumbai-based recruiter Dewan Consultants Pvt. Ltd also promised green cards for them and their families, which was an attractive option for many.
The workers said that once they reported for work, they were told they were only allowed to stay in America for 10 months, which was barely enough time to recover the money paid to the recruiter.
After they protested they were issued ‘T’ visas. Many of them became green card holders in due course and brought their families to the US.
‘America showed more kindness to foreign victims. But India acts vengefully against its own citizens,’ the protestors said.
A letter marked ‘secret’ from the Intelligence Bureau dated July 10 has asked for the passports of ‘T’ visa holders to be seized.
The letter said, ‘It is mentioned that trafficking category ‘T’ visas are being issued by the US government since the US Congress passed a legislation called the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000, mandating the US government to protect and assist victims of human trafficking in the US. The primary victims get T-1 visas and derivative visas are granted to spouses (T-2) children (T-3) or parents (T-4.)’
This matter was examined by the ministry of external affairs and the foreign secretary has approved that the bureau of immigration can stop Indian passport holders from leaving the country if they have a ‘T’ visa ie. (T-1, T-2,T-3.T-4) affixed on their passports.
Image: Protesters outside the Indian consulate in Houston, United States