Foreigners file police reports over jobs that did not materialise

Asia Recruit, Asiajobmart and UUBR International - firms with names which hint at a global reach .

Operating out of office buildings such as the Singapore Land Tower in Raffles Place, they claim on their websites that they market resumes of job seekers to "head- hunters from the world over, creating maximum exposure to millions of job opportunities".

But behind the veneer, lies broken dreams and controversy.

Two businessmen own and run these firms despite their employment agency licences having been suspended or revoked by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). And around 20 foreigners have reported to the ministry and police, claiming they handed the firms thousands of dollars but the jobs did not materialise.

Confirming that reports were made against the firms, the MOM said: "As investigations are ongoing for Asia Recruit, UUBR International and Asiajobmart, we are unable to reveal details."

Company records show that Asia Recruit was set up by 37-year-old Terry Tan-Soo I-Hse in March last year with a paid-up capital of $1. UUBR International was set up by Mr Clarence Lim Jun Yao, 28, last July with a paid-up capital of $500. These two companies changed their names to Alliance Recruit and Connectsia at the end of last year.

Asia Recruit's employment agency licence was suspended by the MOM. The ministry declined to say when it was suspended or why.

Mr Lim also owns Career Central, an employment agency that was convicted last November for overcharging two foreigners seeking jobs here.

The agency was fined $6,000, had its licence revoked and Mr Lim was banned from setting up new employment agencies.

Mr Lim said the court conviction and licence revocation are not related to his current businesses.

"That was very long ago," he said.

Around 15 foreign job seekers who spoke to The Sunday Times told similar stories.

At the start, they would pay $290 or $390 to market their resumes on Asiajobmart.

They were told they would get their money back if they failed to get a "successful interview with an employer" within a period of time. Invariably, they would get a call from UUBR International for interviews and would be offered jobs.

But there was a catch.

They had to pay up to $1,030 in training fees, of which $850 would be refunded once they get a work pass. In nearly all cases, the work pass application was rejected. Mr Lim admitted that out of "hundreds" of applications to MOM, only "one or two" were successful.

The Sunday Times saw three applicants - two from India and one from the Philippines - during a visit to Asiajobmart's People's Park Complex office last week.

A person named Mr Lee, who declined to give his full name, was conducting a training session. When asked if he was aware of complaints, he said: "If a person buys an iPhone and returns it later, does it mean that the iPhone is not good?"

At Connectsia's office at the Singapore Land Tower, The Sunday Times met another job applicant there to pay her training fees.

"They said if I didn't pay today, they won't hold the position for me," said the Indian national who was offered an administrative position for $2,000 a month.

Both Asiajobmart and Connectsia did not have their company names displayed at the premises.

"Signs or not, if the job applicants think that it is something shady, they can not sign up," said Mr Lim.

When The Sunday Times searched the job applicants' listings on Asiajobmart's website, not one applicant was available for placement. But Mr Lim insisted that he has "a few hundred" resumes, but made them unavailable to public searches after the Personal Data Protection Act kicked in in 2013.

Some clients said they had turned to the Small Claims Tribunal (SCT) for help, but their claims were rejected due to insufficient evidence.

"If I am a scam company, why would the SCT claims be dismissed?" reasoned Mr Lim.

He defended his firms' practices. "The process that clients go through, we did not force it on them. I also told them that the EP (Employment Pass) is not easily approved."

Mr Tan-Soo refused to be interviewed for this report.

The clients say they are hoping for MOM and the police to do more. When contacted, police said that the ministry had referred the complaints to them last week.

Widow from India who paid $1,320

Ms Soni Sonal came to Singapore from Chennai last October with a suitcase, $3,000 in savings and the hopes of finding a new job before her tourist visa expired.

"I wanted my sons to have a better life," said the 40-year-old Indian national, who holds a master's degree. Her sons, aged 17 and 20, are in school and her clothing business was struggling.

The widow, who lost her husband in 1998 in an accident, rented a bed at a Lavender Street boarding house for $27 a day.

After posting on several online classifieds, she received a call from UUBR offering her a job interview. But she was first asked to register with Asiajobmart for $290.

She paid and after the interview, was offered a $3,500-a- month job as a customer service representative. She was then asked to pay $1,030 in training fees. She paid in full on Oct 22. Training lasted two hours.

She was asked to wait while the firm applied for an Employment Pass (EP) for her. When no news came after more than a month, she got worried, then depressed.

But "it was too shameful to go back to India". A security agency here decided to hire her and successfully applied for an EP. "They didn't ask me to pay anything."

In December, she started working as an assistant operations manager in the security firm.

She went to UUBR several times to recover her money but was turned away. She found around 30 other foreigners who had similar experiences with the firms.

They keep in touch through a smartphone chat group called JusticeForUs.

The Filipina who paid $1,030

It was the morning before last Christmas and Ms Donah Grace Requino was on her way to People's Park Complex, thinking her worries were over.

The 36-year-old Filipina had been in Singapore for the past eight years on an S Pass, working in the oil and gas industry, when her company told her she would be retrenched on Dec 31.

"I was desperate to find a job," she said.

On Dec 23, UUBR International offered her a post as an admin executive, earning $3,500 a month.

She was told she had to go for a training course, which she paid $1,030 for, the next day at People's Park Complex.

But seeing a staff member - who had attended to her at Asia Recruit, where she did not pay any fees - at the training session triggered doubts. She searched for "UUBR International" online and found complaints from previous clients. Ms Requino said she raised the matter with staff.

"When I was leaving, one said, 'You're just a foreigner here, you can't do anything to me.'"

Ms Requino has heard no news from the company since then. Unable to get a refund, she has since gone to the Manpower Ministry, the police and lawyers in the hope of getting help. "But the lawyers told me my claims can't even cover their fees," she said.

She said she has been a witness at the Small Claims Tribunal for four others who shared her experience.

"But every time, the judge says insufficient evidence," she said. Last Thursday, she bought a one-way ticket back to the Philippines.

This article was first published on March 20, 2016.
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