Kochi

Chasing a mirage in distant shores

On a wing and a prayer: Taking aspirants on visiting visas with a promise to convert them into job visas on reaching the destination is a ploy adopted by illegal agencies. And, victims hardly get the protection of the Labour Department.

On a wing and a prayer: Taking aspirants on visiting visas with a promise to convert them into job visas on reaching the destination is a ploy adopted by illegal agencies. And, victims hardly get the protection of the Labour Department.   | Photo Credit: N_RAJESH;N_RAJESH

Job aspirants fall prey to unscrupulous overseas recruitment agencies that thrive through flagrant violation of rules

In his over 20 years of medical practice, M. Shyamsunder, a maxillofacial surgeon, never had as nightmarish an experience as he had in the Democratic Republic of Congo where he had taken his family in search of better prospects.

He already had a good job in a city hospital when he left for Congo in 2015. Only after reaching the place did he realise that he had been taken for a ride.

“We realised that the person who recruited us was not a licensed recruiter nor had he taken measures to get us the registration of the medical council of that country which put us in grave risk even for a minor medical negligence. Then the salary was unpaid for a few months forcing us to shift back home after one-and-a-half years,” recalled Mr. Shyamsunder, who has been engaged in a legal battle against the recruiter ever since.

He is just one of the many victims from the city to fall prey to unscrupulous overseas recruitment agencies, which continue to thrive through flagrant violation of rules, luring unsuspecting job aspirants with tantalising offers. With such frauds showing no sign of abating, S. Surendran, District Police Chief (Kochi City), has intervened to regulate the functioning of recruitment agencies.

“We have been getting so many complaints, including those on exorbitant service fee charged by recruitment agencies. Often job aspirants do not get the jobs and remuneration they are offered. Recruitment for more than double the number of available vacancies has also been noticed. While only the available vacancies are filled, the rest of the aspirants will end up losing their money,” he said.

Mr. Surendran recently convened a meeting of recruitment agencies and asked them to play by the book. Since recruitment drives are often held in hotels, the police have asked hotel managements in the city to inform them in advance to check illegal recruitment drives. There had been instances where recruitments were held by those claiming to be the sub-agents of the original recruiter without any authorisation to prove it.

In such cases, the ignorance of job aspirants has turned out to be the biggest strength of unscrupulous players out to make quick bucks despite there being a ready method to verify whether the recruitment agency one deals with is a licensed one or not.

There are over 200 recognised overseas recruitment agencies in the State, out of which 76 operate out of Ernakulam. All such agencies are required to take licence from the Protector General of Emigrants under the Ministry of External Affairs and over which the Protector of Emigrants of the jurisdiction concerned has superintending authority.

“Prospective job aspirants can log on to the portal eMigrate, where a list of all licensed overseas recruitment agencies is available. Ensuring the credentials of the agency will solve half the problem as irregularities on its part invite action from the Protector of Emigrants concerned,” said Simimon James, centre manager of Norka Roots, who looks after the affairs of five districts, including Ernakulam.

Taking job aspirants on visiting visas with the promise to convert them into job visas on reaching the destination is one of the ploys of unscrupulous agencies. In a majority of cases, this does not happen, and they are either forced into illegal stay or are deported back. Victims of such job frauds hardly get the protection of the Labour Department since it has very little say in the matter. “At best, such agencies have to take registration under the Shops and Establishments Act for their offices. If anything, we are only authorised to look into the job conditions and salaries of the staff employed by the agencies,” said V.D. Biju, District Labour Officer (Enforcement), Ernakulam.

Neither is the legal remedy to victims of job frauds in proportion to the hardships they are put through. “Illegal recruitment without necessary documents is not a strong enough ground for invoking a serious provision like IPC Section 370 (trafficking of persons), while it is also hard to retain Sections 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property) and 406 (criminal breach of trust) in their strict sense. Though Section 24 of the Emigration Act can be invoked, it has been rendered toothless as the offence is treated as bailable,” said M. Revi Krishnan, a High Court lawyer.

The Kochi City police have registered 34 cases for criminal breach of trust and 1,332 cases for cheating in the last three years, which also include recruitment frauds. “We are in the process of collating data of cases exclusively related to recruitment frauds to get a better idea about the gravity of the issue,” said Mr. Surendran.

It is to free those looking for overseas jobs from the clutches of dubious recruitment agencies that Norka Roots started actively engaging in overseas recruitments since 2015. In fact, Norka Roots is one of the only seven State-run agencies in India licensed to undertake overseas recruitment.

“Since 2015, Norka Roots has recruited over 1,000 nurses to West Asia. Around 85% of our recruitment is nurses, while doctors constitute another 5% to 10%. Besides, we are the sole government agency actively engaged in the safe, legal and ethical recruitment of house maids, considered to be one of the most vulnerable sections. While other government agencies are also authorised to recruit house maids, none of them does that considering the risks involved,” said Ajith Kolassery, joint secretary and recruitment head of Norka Roots.

Recruitment fraud, however, is not just restricted to overseas placements alone with domestic recruitment frauds also galore. One of the modus operandi of such players is to bunch them together with an institution running unrecognised courses in the guise of recognised courses with bogus guaranteed placements on completing them.

Only recently, the Kalamassery police arrested two persons on the charge of running an aviation academy and collecting amounts ranging between ₹40,000 and ₹1 lakh by guaranteeing airport-related jobs. “The candidates were given the impression that they would initially get placements within the country and after gaining experience here, they could fly abroad,” said James Peter, assistant sub inspector, Kalamassery.

That unlike overseas recruitment agencies, those engaged in domestic recruitments need not take licence from the Protector General of Emigrants and issue bank guarantees running into lakhs of rupees makes it all the more easy. They can simply set up shop by registering with the Labour Department and the local body concerned. Having brought the recruitment agencies under the scanner, the city police are now planning to embark on an extensive awareness campaign to protect potential victims from falling prey to fraudsters. The plan is to carry out campaigns in association with residents’ associations and youth-centric combines since they are the biggest victims of such frauds.

The likes of Mr. Shyamsunder were able to piece together their lives after the setback and even fight a protracted legal battle thanks to their sound financial position. But that is not the case with a majority of victims of recruitment frauds who often end up with precious little to fall back on after sacrificing everything for their dream jobs.

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 5:30:11 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/chasing-a-mirage-in-distant-shores/article27154592.ece

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