The ripples of the US federal government shutdown that began on Tuesday are beginning to be felt by the staff at the US embassy in Mumbai and also at its other four consulates across India.
Employees’ salaries have been delayed and while they have been told they will be paid for both the fortnights, there are fears that this may not be possible if the shutdown doesn’t end. Over 7,00,000 federal employees face unpaid leave with no guarantee of being paid once the deadlock is over.
Mission India is one of the largest US missions in the world. Since 2005, American staffing has grown by over 50% (170 positions) encompassing a 63% increase in consular positions. “The only reason people have not been told to go home is because of the stringent Indian labour laws,” said a staffer at the Mumbai embassy. According to her, the first signs of the gravity of the situation came with the cancellation of travel plans and the disappearance of networks like Fox from TV screens.
“The news we are getting is sourced from what CNN, BBC World and Indian networks are saying. This is happening at a time when we want to keep abreast of things back home,” said a senior embassy staffer who calls home (Texas) daily. Employees have also been instructed to not use social media platforms to mock the government, said a consular staffer from the South.
Incidentally, the official website of the US government www.whitehouse.gov shows, “Due to Congress’s failure to pass legislation to fund the government, the information on this website may not be up to date.” The website
www.usa.gov too shows this message: “Due to a lapse in funding, the US federal government has shut down. Call 1-800-FED-INFO for answers to government questions.”
The New Delhi embassy website has reassured those seeking visas saying that they will continue with passport and visa operations.