Wednesday, June 1, 2011

350+ Filipino Teachers on H-1B Visa Files Class Action Suit for Human Trafficking

Via the Southern Poverty Law Center:

Hundreds of Filipino guestworkers lured to teach in Louisiana public schools were cheated out of tens of thousands of dollars and forced into exploitative contracts by an international trafficking ring run by labor contractors.

A federal class action lawsuit was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of more than 350 Filipino teachers working in Louisiana under the federal H-1B guestworker program.

The suit accuses officials of two labor contractors – Universal Placement International, based in Los Angeles, and its sister organization, Manila-based PARS International Placement Agency – of human trafficking, racketeering and fraud. The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, several school officials and a California lawyer were also named as defendants.

Nearly all the teachers had to borrow money to pay exorbitant recruiting fees; the recruiters referred them to private lenders who charged 3 to 5 percent interest per month. Teachers were forced to pay additional fees after they had already made substantial financial investments that would not be returned. The recruiters confiscated their passports and visas until they paid.

The teachers were also forced to sign away an additional 10 percent of the salaries they would earn during their second year of teaching. Teachers who resisted signing the contracts were threatened with being sent home and losing the thousands they had already paid. The recruiters also charged fees for arranging substandard housing and threatened teachers who complained or sought to move to a new location.

The complaint, Mairi Nunag-TaƱedo et al. v. East Baton Rouge Parish School Board et al. is here.

The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.  The Philippine Inquirer reports that in a decision dated May 11, 2011, the court stated that involuntary servitude also includes non physical forms of coercion.
"It is sufficient that the  recruiter’s conduct created a situation where ceasing labor would cause teachers serious harm, the ruling said. It was also clearly stated that TVPA is not only about heinous crimes but also covers various types of fraud and extortion leading to forced labor."
The report cited the defendants' claims that the teachers  were not treated in a manner that would amount to any of the prohibited activities. “Teaching high school math and science hardly qualifies as the type of activity targeted by Congress,” the recruiter argued.

More from the report below on how much it cost to get a teaching gig in Louisiana:  
A work program was advertised in the newspaper and several teachers responded.  The applicants were interviewed and were asked to pay $5,000 upon submission of their documents.  Petitions for working  visas  (H1B) for the teachers were processed through the recruitment agency. When these were approved and the applicants concluded their interview with the US Embassy, the teachers were asked to pay an additional $10,000. Failure to pay the additional sum, they were told,  would result in forfeiture of the first $5,000 and the teachers would not be permitted to travel to the US. Considering their desire to work abroad and after obtaining huge loans to pay the recruitment fees, the teachers paid the additional demands of the recruiter.
If true, 350 teachers at $15,000.00 a pop generates $5,250,000.00. That's more than the entire budget of the Department of Education in that country and where the GDP per capita is a mere $2,123.

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