Illegal recruitment, debt bondage…These are big words that describe very simple concept. Recruiters for industries abroad, such as the domestic worker industry in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, the Gulf, the construction industry and the hospitality industry, will approach individuals (or families in some cases) and say “I have a great job for you in this country making this salary. You just need to pay me/my agency a servicing fee and a processing fee.” Basically, imagine someone saying to you, “I will give you a job but you need to give me 5,000 USD first.”
How does this happen? Why do people “fall” for this and pay thousands of dollars for a job? Unfortunately, how it happens is quite complicated. The vast majority of migrant workers pay illegal agency and recruitment fees amounting to thousands of US dollars. This is someone’s life savings, and if they cannot pay, they take out a loan. The need to pay back the loan generally pressures someone to stay in a job even if the employment situation is highly abusive.
A significant amount of casework at the Mission for Migrant Workers in Hong Kong involves Mission staff assisting these victims of illegal recruitment. The Mission offers advice to the client on how to negotiate with the agency and the Philippine consulate so that she can fight to have her money back. (In many cases, the settlement is far lower than the amount paid).
I also recently just returned from an exposure experience with Migrante International in the Philippines. MI is currently handling two cases of large-scale illegal recruitment and human trafficking. The first cases involves 15 individuals trafficked in Florida to work in hotels. The second case involves teachers trafficked into DC to work in daycare centers. All of these victims paid 5,000-12,000 USD to the recruiter/agency.
People “fall” for these schemes because the recruiter uses lies and deceit to promise them a “good job” with a good salary. These individuals typically cannot find adequately paying employment at home, so they search for a job abroad. In terms of the US, the recruiter promises the person a green card, “promising words” as one victim said. Furthermore, the government in sending countries either fails to have laws that protect migrant workers from fees (Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka) or fails to enforce those laws (Philippines). As I mentioned, even if a woman files a case against her agency with the consulate, she typically must settle for less than she originally paid, and although the agency blatantly violated the law, the government does not punish the agency in any manner. Finally, governments of receiving countries claim that they cannot take any action because the agencies operate outside of their jurisdiction.
So how should we respond to this situation? Firstly, we should seek to understand it and not blame the victim for “falling” for these schemes. Secondly, we should find ways to engage receiving governments to protect the rights of migrants.