Washington: The Iowa-based institutions of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi have said about only five percent of the 2,600 Vedic pandits, who were brought to the US from north Indian villages, have gone missing in recent years.
"Each of these cases the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been informed about Vedic pandits leaving their United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and State Department approved programme at its Iowa campus," said William Goldstein, Dean of Global Development and General Counsel to the Maharishi University of Management.
"Only a small number of the over 2,600 pandits, about five per cent, who have come on this unprecedented Vedic programme to the US have gone AWOL (absent without leave)," Goldstein told a news agency in an email.
"For the first four years of this programme, it was a very small number. In recent months this number has been unfortunately increasing," he said.
He alleged that they appear to have been induced by individuals providing false and bad information of high earnings, or by unscrupulous employers taking advantage of them.
He also denied allegations of mistreatment of the priests, including giving them low wages.
In an investigative report, Chicago-based ethnic weekly newspaper Hi India alleged that 163 Vedic pandits brought to the US lived in pathetic conditions and were paid less than 75 cents an hour.
Goldstein claimed that these pandits come to the US under R-1 visas and thus are not subject to the minimum wage rules.
"They are on R-1 visas. They are not in possession of a visa to be day labourers nor are they equipped to be such. Their visa only entitles them, and they are solely qualified to engage in, their spiritual vocation of meditation and Vedic performances," he said.
"They are not subject to minimum wage laws in this spiritual or ministerial vocation, like monks in a monastery," said the official from Maharishi University of Management. The Iowa campus has been specifically inspected and approved for this precise purpose by USCIS, for use as a site for R-1 pandits," he said.
Denying allegations that pandits brought to the US are underage, he said, "No pandit has ever come on the programme under 18 years of age."
He said that it has been agreed with the pandits that of the USD 200 per month base cash compensation, USD 150 will be transmitted to their families in India.
All the pandits, contrary to the allegations, reside in modern, fully heated and air-conditioned comfortable modular homes, with an indoor and outdoor athletic facility and a large organic vegetarian kitchen and cafeteria, along with their meditation halls, classrooms, and Vedic performance halls, he said.