Monday, June 17, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

Washington raises pressure on Delhi over US human trafficking visas

Update : 12 Nov 2015, 06:45 PM

The US government is stepping up pressure on India to end a controversial policy of placing restrictions on passports of Indian nationals rescued from forced labor or human trafficking in the United States, a US State Department official said.

In the next few months, the issue will be raised with Indian authorities during a number of high-level meetings, said the official, who declined to be identified.

This has already started to happen. The official said at a consular-level meeting on November 3, US officials asked Indian officials to scrap the policy. It was also raised at meetings on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September.

Since March, Indians who have received US T visas have faced new restrictions. T visa holders face long delays in renewing passports at Indian consulates in the US. It was reported last week that they must also provide confidential information to the Indian government that they had previously submitted to the US authorities, including details about who had trafficked them, according to the documents, legal advocates and interviews with T visa holders.

Human rights advocates say the restrictions undermine US government efforts to help Indians rescued from forced labor in the US, including hundreds recruited to work in US Gulf Coast shipyards after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

Between July 2014 and March 2015, the crackdown by the Indian authorities was harsher. At least 20 passports of Indians stamped with US T visas were confiscated by authorities at Indian airports, preventing trafficking victims who returned home to collect their families from flying back to the United States. That has now stopped but the new restrictions are still making life very difficult for some of those with the visas.

In July, one of the biggest employers of Indian workers on the Gulf Coast, Alabama-based oil rig repair company Signal International LLC, agreed to pay $20m to settle claims that it misled and exploited Indian guest workers brought to the US.

A March 3 ruling handed in by an India high court found the country’s confiscation of passports with T visas unconstitutional.  A March 16 memo from the Ministry of External Affairs told “all missions and posts” to relax some aspects of the policy but not repeal it.

The problems with T visas follow the December 2013 arrest of an Indian diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, for visa fraud and underpaying a domestic worker who was later issued a US T visa.  Her arrest and subsequent strip search provoked an outcry in India over her treatment by US authorities.

The T Visa crackdown was widely seen as part of the Indian government’s diplomatic retaliation for the Khobragade incident, which New Delhi treated as an affront to its national pride. 

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