Filipinos charged huge fees to work in New Zealand

Almost 70 Filipino workers have laid, or are laying, complaints claiming they were charged exorbitant fees to come and work in New Zealand.

All workers have similar complaints - primarily that they were charged fees of up to $15,000 for a job in New Zealand through Business Immigration and its overseas agents. Many took out loans in the Philippines to cover the fees, and were paying between 40 per cent and 50 per cent annual interest.

Around 50 migrant workers have worked with the Philippine Embassy to compile their accusations, and a further 16 are working with local law firm Lexington Legal to make a formal complaint to Philippine authorities and New Zealand's Immigration Advisers Authority.

The Press spoke to two workers who were afraid of implications for their visa status if they commented publicly.

They were part of the group of 16 working with Lexington Legal to compile complaints against Business Immigration. Both said they had paid between $10,000 and $11,000 to come to New Zealand. One of the workers showed The Press receipts of US$3400 to Business Immigration.

One of the workers said he had been directed by his recruiter to a loan company in the Philippines, which charged 40 per cent interest, taking the total he owed to almost $15,000.

He said if he ever missed a payment, $180 penalty fees would be added to his loan each day until it was paid. He was paying off the loan at a rate of $1000 a month.

Both of the men had young children in the Philippines to support, and said often they would miss out on buying food or other essentials to ensure they could make payments. "Business Immigration is no good for us. We carry our burden [of debt] for a whole year, to try and pay our lendings."

The workers claim the level of fees charged was unreasonable, that they were given only 15 minutes to review their contracts, and that they were not provided with receipts breaking down what they were paying for.

All workers making complaints were recruited in the Philippines by recruitment agencies operating as Sacred Heart, Greenfields and Lau'mel Entertainment Agency. Business Immigration lists the companies on their website as their "overseas agents", and sends representatives to participate in the interviewing process with the Filipino companies.

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Business Immigration owner Lyn Sparks would not comment on the workers' complaints but said all the agency's processes and fees were legitimate. "We get licensed every year don't we," he said.

Sparks hung up on The Press when questioned about Business Immigration's relationship with Greenfields and Sacred Heart, and the legality of fees charged in the Philippines.

In September 2014, Business Immigration was suspended by the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) after eight Auckland workers brought a formal complaint against them. In October, a further 30 migrant workers brought complaints against the company.

The Philippine Embassy spokesman said the complaints from 50 migrants had been sent to the POEA and were awaiting judgment. In December 2014, it became illegal under Philippine law for recruiters to charge workers fees to come to New Zealand.

 - The Press

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