By Norma Hennessy
It was more than a month ago when I received a colleague’s short call from Sydney requesting assistance for a friend’s cousin in Australia. The simple request turned out to be anything but simple and led to a series of events that got to the top of government departments.
Here’s a young woman and her friend in search for career growth and life improvement, taking the pathway of leaving the Philippines to study in Australia. As is usual among OFW aspirants these days, or amongst those who dream of bigger things in the future for their families, it was a gung- ho move that is rife with risks, but a path worth taking risks for, nonetheless.
The arrangements entered into by both contracting parties – client and agent, seemed straightforward enough. The expectations were clean and simple in theory. They were here to do a bridging study and earn while studying until they get to work under their profession as nurses.
The arrangement was however too unbelievably straightforward to be real. On closer look into the situation they came into, it became apparent that there were corners cut and there were so many IFs involved.
First off, their migration and placement agent procured for them business visitor’s visas on false status details – a clear indication of an intent to defraud the host country’s laws.
In a supporting document submitted by their agent for their visa application, they were indicated as architects on a business trip rather than as nurses in search for jobs. It was only during an enquiry at the Australian Department of Immigration at a later date did they discover that the business visitors’ visas that the agency procured for them did not allow them to work in Australia. This was contrary to what their agency committed to them prior to their entry which was that they could work while in Australia.
They were informed and were inappropriately led to believe that their visas will be converted into student visas as soon as they got to Australia. They were assured by their agency that their employment training which they prepaid for 450,000 pesos in the Philippines (roughly the equivalent of Aud 11,000) will be their pathway to desired nursing jobs. They were then told that meanwhile that they will be training, they will also be provided employment from which they could earn income at 20 AUD per hour.
On arrival in Australia, they were given accommodation by their agency’s Australian partner and were immediately fielded into cleaning jobs despite that their visitors’ visas did not allow them to work. While they were not asked payment for their accommodation, they never received compensation for their services.
They continued to work to designated assignments despite that they were not receiving compensation for the work that they rendered. They presumed that it must be part of their contract with the agency. Their visitor’s visas bore an expiry date of 16th/17th of May but until the 28 or 29th of April, they have not received any wage. There remained no response from their Philippine agency nor from the Australian business partner of the agency, to their requests for their wages. Their queries about their visa ‘conversion’ from visitor’s visas to student visas were also met with excuses.
It turned out that it was a situation involving not just this group of three but several others. It was a scam ran by a legitimate POEA-endorsed agency in the Philippines that was operating with the blessing of people in high places.
With their financial situation getting dire and sensing that they were not getting clear responses to their queries regarding their intended study-while-working option, they decided to return home. They had then began to nurse doubts and harboured fear about the legitimacy of their contract. It was then that they contacted a colleague who referred them to me.
Guided through a complex bureaucratic process of correspondence exchange, and through the assistance of the Philippine Consulate General in South Australia, they got their situation to the attention of the Philippine Embassy in Canberra and to relevant Australian government departments. The non payment of their wages got to the Ombudsman’s Office at Fair Work South Australia. A letter regarding their visa issue was sent to the attention of the office of Mr. Scott Morrison, Minister of Immigration and Deportation in Canberra. Their desperate resource status got to the Women’s Information Service in South Australia.
The two visitors returned to the Philippines with the Fair Work Australia’s word that they will be contacted regarding their issue via email.
Information about their case was also forwarded to relevant departments of the Philippine government and to the Philippine Overseas Employment Association.
Meanwhile, I received a separate request from a niece (yes, a graduate nurse!) in the Philippines, requesting me to be her sponsor for three months on a ‘study and work’ scheme at a university in Melbourne. Just three months, she said, because the Chinese sponsor provided by her recruitment agent in the Philippines has pulled out. She has already paid 70,000 pesos (approx. 1,750 AUD) for a program that allowed her to study and work at the same time. It was a blatant scam that bluntly stared out. And it’s capitalized on the applicant’s full trust on the recruiter and non-knowledge of visa policies of the ‘host country’ (in this case, it’s Australia).
The case of the two nurses opened a ‘can of worms’ about scams through which people who are desperate to find employment outside of the Philippines, i.e. Australia, fall into. The case of my niece simply reconfirmed it. Recruitment agencies hook into the prospective host country’s complex visa procedural policies; in this case – the use of student visa as a pathway to acquiring permanent residency and to eventual migrant status. People are then brought in using the easiest possible visa to procure and which is procured on false pretenses and on falsified data in the visa application process. The victims are charged the cost of a year tuition for a bridging course on the promise of giving them employment training. The amount is based on a standard tuition fee for a year in a tertiary institution.
What happens then when the issued three-month business visitor’s visa expires is that the visa holder has to exit or risk becoming an illegal visitor for eventual deportation. It will be at this point that victims of the scam will be forced to make confused decisions that make them hold onto the proverbial ‘patalim’ (knife’s edge).
Other post/s by Norma Hennessy
- The two sides of Racial Discrimination Act's Section 18C - May 4th, 2014
- Abra: In Danger of Becoming Cordillera's "No Man's Land" - December 1st, 2013
- Is Abra of the Cordilleras now rivalling Maguindanao for blood thirst? - October 20th, 2013
- Frustrations on Pnoy's lifting of log ban - November 21st, 2011