Filipinos in Hong Kong were promised a new life in Poland. It never came

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A two-part Al Jazeera investigation reveals allegations of dishonesty from recruiters operating in several nations.


This is the second piece in a two-part series concerning the purported mistreatment of migrant laborers from the Philippines. You may read Part One here.

China’s Hong Kong Divina*, a domestic worker in Hong Kong, found a recruiter offering the alluring chance to work in Poland after just a few minutes of internet browsing.


Divina soon discovered herself attending a two-hour orientation on the 17th floor of a building in the busy Mong Kok neighborhood of the city.

She listened as representatives mentioned positions at hotels, car parts factories, and chicken processing plants, among other places of employment.

She told Al Jazeera, “So you would really be convinced that [they] had many contacts in Poland.”

Divina initiated her application to work in Europe by paying the recruiters ten thousand Hong Kong dollars ($1,279).

Divina, however, has given up all hope of ever traveling to Poland and is still waiting for her application to be processed more than 14 months later.

Divina is just one of the many domestic workers in Hong Kong who feel duped after paying tens of thousands of dollars in fees for unfulfilled tasks in Poland.

Labor activists in the financial center claim that at least 600,000 Hong Kong dollars ($76,785) have been stolen by victims of an international network of recruiters and agencies; nevertheless, this is probably just the beginning of the story.

Five Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong were interviewed by Al Jazeera, and the organization also reviewed written testimonies from twenty more people who allege they were duped by internet recruiters and at least two Hong Kong agencies that collaborated with a Poland-based agency.

Many claimed that after taking out loans to pay the recruitment expenses, they were left unable to provide for their families for months at a time.

According to David Bishop, a university professor and co-founder of the migration-focused social enterprise Migrasia, Hong Kong has become a “hotbed for illegal recruitment schemes” because of its 340,000 foreign domestic workers and the increasing demand for migrant workers from Asia to Eastern Europe. Such cases are by no means unique in Hong Kong.

According to Bishop, a significant number of organizations have been found by his team using third-country recruitment techniques that are forbidden by Philippine labor laws.

He told Al Jazeera, “These agencies target Filipino workers in Asia with the alleged intention of placing them in jobs in Europe,” and that recruiters take advantage of people who are depressed about not being able to obtain employment.

Divina received word a few weeks after submitting her application that her application would be handled exclusively by an agency in Warsaw. She communicated directly with a partner agency in Hong Kong, who informed her that it was no longer participating.

In the end, the Polish agency asserted that it had not been paid.

Divina was unsure about what to do next because she frequently works 16-hour shifts without getting paid overtime and is legally obligated to reside with her employer in Hong Kong.

She remarked, “I keep praying, I keep begging [to get back] all our hard-earned money,” and mentioned that although she still had thoughts of visiting Poland, her main goal was to receive her money back.

Agents who handle recruitment have marketed Poland to domestic laborers as a place where they can live with their families in Europe, earn better working conditions, and sometimes even quadruple their salary.

From November 2021 to November 2023, Filipinos wishing to work in Poland submitted the most visa applications from Hong Kong, second only to the Philippines.

According to a representative for Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2,980 visas for Filipino workers were handled by Polish authorities in Hong Kong during that time.

Searching for answers

Maria*, a fellow Filipina migrant worker who applied to the Mong Kok-based agency for a job in Poland, is still in the dark.

She said to Al Jazeera, “I don’t know where my 10,000 Hong Kong dollars went,” alluding to her initial cash payment from May 2022.

The whole cost of Maria’s application, according to her, was stated to be 30,000 Hong Kong dollars (US$3,839), which is more than six times the minimum monthly salary of a domestic worker in Hong Kong.

“I believed we would be better protected because we were working with a real Hong Kong agency,” she stated.

Maria finds it incomprehensible that she is still in the city when a coworker who applied at the same time with the same agency received an offer of employment and was able to travel to the nation in Eastern Europe.

Maria contacted the Hong Kong agency for evidence that her money had really been transported to Poland in WhatsApp exchanges that Al Jazeera was able to view, but she was informed that the information was “confidential [information] between companies.”

The organization, which is presently licensed to conduct business in the city, wrote a letter to applicants in November 2022, alleging that “all the problems” were “from the Poland side.”

Maria took Al Jazeera to her Mong Kok agency twice last month, but both times the office was closed.

Someone answering a number on the door asked why Maria had chosen to visit there in person and insisted that inquiries be made via WhatsApp.

Maria has tried several times to have a face-to-face meeting with someone from the agency, but to no avail.

As of the end of November, the Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong had received 24 formal complaints against CIS Group Manpower, a Polish agency, 18 of which mentioned Son Employment as their Hong Kong partner.
Raly Tejada, the consul general until last month, told Al Jazeera, “Almost all stated they have paid significant amounts [ranging from] 10,000 to 30,000 Hong Kong dollars to the recruiter, only ending up not being able to leave for Poland.”

Imran Mehmood, the proprietor of CIS Group Manpower, claimed to run a “honest” company that complies with Polish law and refuted any allegations of labor fraud or overcharging.

Mehmood declared that Son Employment was no longer a part of his company and that its owner had “cheated” him. He did not elaborate on the nature of their disagreement.

Son Employment stopped operating on May 31, 2022, according to a spokeswoman for Hong Kong’s Labour Department, and its license was revoked shortly after.

Mehmood’s claims were denied by Kenneth Tang, the former owner of Son Employment, who asserted that Mehmood was “a victim” of CIS Group Manpower. Furthermore, he did not go into detail about how their professional relationship had soured.

Tang claimed to have paid back some Filipino laborers who had complained about issues with their Poland applications.

He stated, “I refunded some money to applicants if they had good reasons – but, of course, maybe 40 percent.” He clarified that he was unable to issue complete refunds since the partner agency in Poland had already received payment.

Tang declined to say how much he charged migrant workers or how many used his services. Tang said he currently works as an adviser for another recruitment firm in Hong Kong.

Without providing any proof, he asserted that employment agencies were losing money as “six out of eight” Filipino workers quit their jobs after coming to Poland.

Fear of coming forward

According to Migrasia’s program manager, Isla Wilson, at least 200 Filipinos—the majority of whom are in Hong Kong—have been duped.

Wilson said Al Jazeera, “This is the most extensive recruitment network we have investigated to date.”

Wilson stated that her group has helped over thirty people in the Philippines and Hong Kong file claims totaling more than 600,000 Hong Kong dollars (US$76,785).

“However, given that some victims opted not to report their abuse or continued to hope for deployment, we calculate that the agencies have made a substantially larger profit from their illicit services,” the spokesperson added.

Due to her reluctance to deal with bureaucracy in her limited free time and the fact that it is against Philippine law to be hired straight from Hong Kong to a third nation, Maria chose not to file an official complaint.

In April of last year, Migrasia said in a 51-page report that she had turned in to authorities in Poland, the Philippines, and Hong Kong that hiring agencies put job seekers at “risk of labor exploitation” and hindered them from making “truly informed choices.”

According to Migrasia, it discovered multiple infractions of the Trade Descriptions Ordinance of Hong Kong, including the collection of outrageous fees, unfair commercial practices, and false or misleading statements.

According to a representative for Hong Kong’s Labor Department, agencies need to have a license and are only allowed to charge up to 10% of the worker’s monthly wage after placement, even if the employment is to take place outside of the city.

He did not say whether the department has received concerns about recruitment in Europe in particular.

The Hong Kong Police Force declined to disclose through a spokeswoman whether the network was being looked into for possible legal infractions.

According to a representative for Hong Kong’s Labor Department, agencies need to have a license and are only allowed to charge up to 10% of the worker’s monthly wage after placement, even if the employment is to take place outside of the city.

He did not say whether the department has received concerns about recruitment in Europe in particular.

The Hong Kong Police Force declined to disclose through a spokeswoman whether the network was being looked into for possible legal infractions.

Diplomat Tejada said he discussed third-country recruitment in Hong Kong with his Polish counterparts in the city and raised the possibility of a bilateral agreement to address the issue.

“It is our view that the negotiation of a formal bilateral labour agreement is the viable answer to the current issues affecting Filipino workers in Hong Kong being recruited for jobs in Poland,” Tejada said.

The Progressive Labour Union of Domestic Workers in Hong Kong’s vice chairman, Shiella Estrada, expressed concern about the huge loans that domestic workers are taking out in order to qualify for positions in Poland.

Estrada demanded that the Hong Kong government examine recruitment organizations serving the European nation, and he encouraged the Philippine authorities to increase awareness among domestic workers.

Agents in Hong Kong accuse their Polish counterparts. People in Poland blame people in Hong Kong. We’ve seen this happen previously,” Estrada said to Al Jazeera.

According to Wilson of Migrasia, recruiters and agencies in both nations who disregard rules ought to suffer the repercussions, which in certain situations can include having their licenses revoked.

The most crucial thing, according to Wilson, is that victims get paid “because financial restitution is vital for them to achieve complete justice.” provided funds for this article.*Names have been altered to preserve people’s privacy.



                SOURCE: ALJAZEERA

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