Scam agents in Malaysia leave foreign workers in the lurch

KUALA LUMPUR - Hundreds of thousands of foreign workers from Indonesia, Pakistan and Myanmar, and a few from the Philppines, are believed to have been cheated by "agents" here who promised them legal work permits under 6P amnesty programme.

Indonesian Community Association in Malaysia (Permai) vice-chairman Dewi Kholifah has received thousands of reports from Indonesian workers who were charged up to RM6,000 (S$2,352) each by agencies which claimed that they were registered with the Home Ministry.

"Some of the agents had even shown a letter from the Home Ministry to these Indonesian workers, which stated that they are registered with the ministry to help in running the 6P programme," she said.

Responding to such claims, Immigration department director (foreign workers division) Datuk Haniff Omar said the foreigners' employers should lodge police reports since they had brought the workers in and were responsible for their documentation. However, Haniff admitted that the use of management companies under the 6P programme had given unregistered agents the opportunity to deceive these foreigners.

"Employers who claimed that they were cheated by agents under the 6P programme last year can now register their workers under the Special Programme for Managing Illegal Immigrants (PKPP)," he said, adding that it was compulsory for the employers to provide a police reportbefore Sept 10.

"The reason we give the employers a certain period of time is because the 6P programme ended a long time ago (December 2012) and as it involved a huge transaction of money, we would expect employers to lodge a police report earlier," he said.

"If it is true that they were cheated, why only make a police report now?

"Why had they acted only after we made it compulsory to have a police report?" Haniff asked.

To prevent further scams, the department will not allow agents to process the work permits, he said.

"Only those with the company representative card are allowed to do business at our counters and this yellow card will only be given to the employer and two representatives who are their full-time workers.

"The employer will have to provide their representative's Employees Provident Fund (EPF) statement to prove that they are permanent workers of the company," he added.

Responding to the PKPP programme, Dewi called on the Home Ministry to clarify which "employer" was responsible for lodging the police reports, claiming that most foreign workers were registered under an outsourcing company.

"These outsourcing companies supply labourers to organisations, thus the workers are registered under two different companies," she said.

One of their victims is Bambang Setiawan, 32, an Indonesian who had been working for a construction company here for five years.

When his employer tried to renew his work permit, the Immigration Department turned down the application.

"According to them, I have to go back to my hometown and wait for another six months before I am allowed to re-enter this country and continue my job at this company," said Bambang.

He refused to go back to Indonesia, but instead applied to be registered as a legal immigrant through the 6P programme.

"After the amnesty programme, I was outsourced to another company but unfortunately, it was declared bankrupt."

He had paid RM4,000 for a work permit -- which he has yet to see.

Bambang and his friends are now stuck in this country and all of them are living in fear as some of their compatriots have been arrested and deported.

"We cannot go anywhere because our passports have been taken by our agents who have also threatened to hand us to the Immigration Department for staying here illegally if we make a police report against them," he said.

Haniff said that companies were not allowed to outsource foreign workers to other companies.

"Since last year, under the Employment Act 1955, only companies wishing to hire foreign workers for their own use are allowed," he said.

But some foreign workers prefer to use these agents as they enter the country without permanent employers.

Many of them overstay after their contract with their company ends while others enter the country, on tourist or student visas, with the intention of looking for a job.

For example Anitha (not her real name) was sold fake work permits for her two Filipino workers who had come in on tourist visas.

The permits said her workers were employed by the agency, and she was also given an "endorsement" letter saying both workers were permitted to work at her beauty parlour.

When she became suspicious about the permits, she went to the Immigration office in Putrajaya, where she found the documents were forged and her employees were not registered.

She was referred to the enforcement division which told her to make a police report.

But when she made the police report, she was told it would be difficult to take the case to court as she was sending her workers back to the Philippines.

The police sent her a letter saying she had to report the case to the Immigration Department.

Anitha had sleepless nights until her workers were safely back in the Philippines.

The stress caused her to lose four kilogrammes and at one point, she even lost her voice.

But she is wiser now.

"I didn't know about the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration process," she said.

"Next time I will go through their accredited agents."

The 6P programme, also known as the Illegal Immigrant Comprehensive Settlement Programme, was set up by the government in 2011 for companies to legalise their foreign employees.

The programme allows legalisation of some 1.8 million illegals working here or to be deported back to their home country without any form of punishment.