Job agents preying on Gurkhas

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 January, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 January, 1995, 12:00am

GURKHA soldiers, desperate to return to Hong Kong after their postings, are losing their life savings to corrupt agents who promise jobs in the territory.

The British Army's legendary Nepalese troops, who earn a meagre $3,010 a month as new recruits, are being asked to pay up to $26,000 for visas and non-existent work.

Businessmen in Kathmandu, where the Gurkhas must return after being de-mobbed, pose as employment agents but often collect the payments and skip across the Nepalese border to India, leaving the ex-soldiers bankrupt.

Other agents produce a tourist visa instead of the coveted work visa. The visa allows its holder to stay for just three months after which Gurkhas find themselves penniless, unable to work and unable to buy a ticket back to Nepal.

The scams began to surface after Jardine Securicor Gurkha Service, an army-backed organisation which seeks jobs for former Gurkhas, began to quiz prospective employees.

Gurkha Service chief Chris Hardy, a former British Army major, said he had heard countless tales of promises which evaporated during the journey from Kathmandu to Hong Kong.

'I've heard some horrendous stories from the boys with one having to pay nearly $26,000,' Mr Hardy said.

'They pauper themselves in the hope of some future. In some cases when the agency has been paid, they return for the job but the agency has gone - usually to India.

'They are being hoodwinked. Sadly, some of the people doing this are retired Gurkhas. The men will sell their land and gratuity to raise the fee but are left destitute.' A former Gurkha, who has since found work in Hong Kong, said many of his friends had been set up by the agencies.

'Some have paid money in Nepal but were told there was no guarantees,' said the man, who asked to remain anonymous. 'Agencies take the money but only get them a tourist visa.' Army cuts over the past year have whittled Gurkha numbers in Hong Kong to just over 1,000 from 3,000. Under an agreement between London and Kathmandu, all Gurkhas recruited into the British Army must be signed up and discharged in Nepal. But to return to Hong Kong, the Gurkhas must have guaranteed employment and be sponsored by the employer.

Many of those discharged from the army have families and have built lives in Hong Kong. Children born in the territory have the right of abode, but their fathers do not.

'Some are trying to get back to be with their children, as they have the right of abode,' the Gurkha said.

The average annual income of the Nepalese is $770 to $1,540, and they are selling everything.

Unscrupulous agents based in Hong Kong were also wringing money from the soldiers' plight, Mr Hardy said.

The agents offer to find cut-price Gurkhas for local clients or companies. But the agents are collecting cash from both sides - the Hong Kong client and the Gurkha in Kathmandu.

The agent agrees a price with the employer, then gathers immigration documents for the client to sign. A call is made to Kathmandu, the Gurkha is charged his fee, and employer and employee are brought together.

'There is nothing we can do. The clients are legitimate and don't know the Gurkha is being charged. They just think he is a cost-effective agent. The money is given in Nepal so they are not breaking any Hong Kong laws,' Mr Hardy said.

Jardine Securicor has placed 626 former soldiers in private and corporate security positions.

British Forces spokesman Roger Goodwin said he was aware of the problem and condemned the practice.

'It is not really our business but we try to send them off with the best possible chance. A great many want to be employed in Hong Kong as their children can stay here and they can earn more money here than in Nepal. Chris [Hardy] is getting jobs for them and we back his work. These agents are unscrupulous,' he said.