'Dream come true' turns to nightmare for Filipino teachers

Los Angeles (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - To Edith (not her real name), the offer was a dream come true. She could move to the United States from the Philippines and increase her income many times over while continuing to pursue what she loved to do-which was to teach.

But things didn't turn out as expected. Edith and three other teachers from Cebu City said they were recruited by a Los Angeles-based employment agency to work in LA area schools, only to find themselves working odd jobs illegally just to survive.

"They were deceptively recruited by an employment agency," said Joanna Concepcion, spokesperson for the LA-based Filipino Migrant Center (FMC) which has been assisting the teachers.

"The petitioner schools never intended to hire them. There was no work waiting for them, and this renders their work contracts fraudulent," she told reporters here Saturday.

The recruiter, West Coast Employment Agency in Los Angeles, is being investigated by the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Labor, Concepcion said. The case has also been reported to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), she added.

Concepcion said the four teachers were among 35 Cebu City-based tutors who were recruited by the employment agency beginning in 2007 and charged $10,000 each for placement as teachers under the H1B or work authorization program for nonimmigrant professionals.

Verbal abuse, deportation threats

Breaking their silence, the teachers said the owner of the agency subjected them to constant verbal abuse and intimidation and threatened to have them deported if they complained or refused to pay the balance of their placement fees.

"The saddest part is that we came here to give our children a better future and now we can't even send them money to pay for their education," said Edith, a 46-year-old veteran teacher with four children.

She said that like her, nearly all the teachers used up all their savings and borrowed money to pay the recruitment fees.

Another teacher, Patricia (not her real name), 44, said they kept silent all these years for fear of being deported. She said they decided to tell their stories to inspire other victims of unscrupulous recruiters "to step forward and fight for their dignity as workers and human beings."

Respected and highly regarded

"We were embarrassed to talk about our situation at first because we were respected and highly regarded teachers in Cebu," said Patricia, choking back tears. "But we decided to tell our stories to warn our kababayan (countrymen) to be very careful when dealing with recruiters. Let's ask our government to go after these abusive recruiters."

Concepcion said the latest complaint showed abuses by recruitment agencies and labor trafficking continued under the Aquino administration.

"The US continues to be a hot spot for human and labor trafficking, and some of the most recent victims were Filipino immigrants and migrant workers," she said.

Last year, the FMC helped 11 labor trafficking victims, known as the Adman 11, to obtain legal and social services. The victims had been hired by Manila-based Adman Human Resource Placement and Promotions to work in Virginia for $7.25 an hour but ended up working in a hotel in Mississippi for $4.75 per cleaned room.

Recruiters' fraudulent practices

Also subjected to intimidation and threats of deportation if they complained, the victims fled to Los Angeles to seek help from friends and relatives.

FMC board president Tony Dorono said the stories were nearly the same: Filipino workers coming to the United States legally, losing their legal status and becoming undocumented aliens because of the fraudulent practices of recruiters.

Traffickers often lure their victims with promises of employment and high earnings, Dorono said. "Their unsuspecting victims often take out huge loans and sell property to pay for the processing fees and airfare, only to find that there's no job waiting for them."

"They are often coerced into taking manual labor jobs in care-giving or in the service sector. These agencies isolate and trap their victims in servitude for years and force them to pay exorbitant fees for food, housing and other costs."

"This cycle of labor trafficking and fraud is fed by a surplus pool of labor made up of millions of Filipinos desperate for work outside their country," he said.

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