The underground trade cashing in on China’s demand for foreign domestic helpers

Agent accused of making US$1.5 million in space of a year by bringing maids from Indonesia and Philippines to China to work illegally

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 September, 2017, 7:03am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 September, 2017, 7:03am

A trial in eastern China has given a glimpse of the lucrative underground trade meeting the country’s demand for foreign domestic workers.

In a case recently heard by a Suzhou court in Jiangsu province, an agent earned more than 10 million yuan (US$1.5 million) in a year by importing maids from the Philippines and Indonesia, the Yangtse Evening Post reported on Sunday.

A Suzhou-based housekeeping company, owned by a woman who was identified only by the pseudonym of Li Lan, allegedly helped more than 200 Filipino and Indonesian women enter the mainland to work as domestic helpers between May 2015 and March last year, making over 10 million yuan from service charges, the report said.

Li, who was detained by police last year, was accused of illegally running immigrants over the border. It was unclear which court heard the case, and a verdict has yet to be delivered.

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Except for expats living in Shanghai, who have been allowed to hire domestic helpers from overseas since July 2015, employing foreign maids remains illegal in mainland China.

But Philippine Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello has said an estimated of 200,000 Filipino domestic helpers were working illegally in mainland China last year.

Li allegedly worked with agents in Indonesia, who were responsible for looking for maids from both countries and getting them passports, visas and air tickets, the report said, citing court proceedings.

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Li sent people to pick the maids up at airports in Shanghai and take them to a dormitory in Suzhou, where they were given training in how to cook Chinese meals, take care of children and do laundry the Chinese way, the court was told.

At the same time, she looked for potential employers via websites and WeChat, the most popular social media platform in China. She would bring the maids to her clients a couple of days after they signed a contract, the court was told.

Usually she charged 79,000 yuan in service fees from the employer, and 21,000 yuan from the maid to cover a return ticket and any fines for overstaying. The maid would receive a monthly salary of 5,100 yuan, she was quoted as telling the court.

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Without work permits, most of the maids entered China on an M visa, which is issued for foreigners doing business in China, the report said.

With this visa, the maids are allowed to stay in China for 90 days, and another 90 days as long as they leave China before the first period expires.

Li would send someone to take the maids to Hong Kong, Macau or Jeju in South Korea before the first 90-day period ended and they would then return to continue working for the employer for another 90 days.

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But in many cases the maids stayed in China to work for longer periods.

According to Chinese law, overstayers face fines of ­between 5,000 and 20,000 yuan on leaving the country.

In more serious cases they risk between five and 15 days’ detention.

A month ago, Dominador Say, undersecretary for employment and policy support at the Philippine Department of Labour and Employment, claimed China had been studying the possibility of allowing domestic helpers from the Philippines to be hired in five big cities, including Beijing and Shanghai. However, the Chinese side has denied any knowledge of the matter.