Radio-tagging better than confinement: US

The United States on Monday rejected New Delhi's complaints about radio-tagging of some Indian students caught up in a visa and immigration scam and defended the practice saying it is "standard procedure for a variety of investigations, and does not necessarily imply guilt or suspicion of criminal activity."

Amid outrage in some quarters in India about the electronic monitoring of 18 students from among nearly 1,500 caught up in the incident, the state department issued a lengthy statement explaining that the use of ankle monitor "is a positive alternative to confinement during a pending investigation."

It appears that students were offered a choice between immediate legal procedure __ which would have involved temporary incarceration, hiring legal counsels, posting bond etc __ and electronic monitoring. And Many of them opted for the latter. In fact, there appears to be a cultural gap in understanding radio-tagging, with many in India believing it to imply criminality, whereas in the US, it is used to offer freedom of move in place of confinement during investigation. Many celebrities and public figures in the US have been radio tagged pending investigations.

"(It) does not necessarily imply guilt or suspicion of criminal activity. An ankle monitor sends a radio frequency signal containing location and other information to a receiver. It allows for freedom of movement and is a positive alternative to confinement during a pending investigation," the state department explained in a statement after New Delhi expressed strong concern about students being treated like criminals.

External affairs minister S M Krishna, himself an exchange student who studied in the United States in the 1960s (and have many in the Union council of ministers subsequently), had taken up the issue of tagging after initial reports suggested Indian students may have been victims of a visa fraud ring. But subsequently inquiries have indicated some of them may have been aware of the situation while exploiting loopholes in the process to emigrate to the US.

Countering the Indian complaint, the US said the department of state takes allegations of immigration and visa fraud very seriously, and the " Tri-Valley University fraud allegations are an excellent example of the universally damaging effects of visa fraud." Such visa fraud "hinders genuine students from studying in the US and causes opportunities and resources to be taken away from legitimate applicants," it cautioned.

"Visa fraud is not a victimless crime, and fraud agents and fake document vendors target some of the most vulnerable and impoverished members of Indian society," the statement added.

Reassuring genuine victims of the Tri-Valley incident, the statement said a legitimate student who is a fraud victim "should have little trouble re-applying and enrolling in a different, fully-accredited educational organization." If fraud victims choose to return to India first and apply for a new student visa, they will be treated the same as any other applicant, it added.