The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in Singapore conducted an island-wide enforcement operation from 26 to 27 July 2016 against a syndicate involved in bringing in foreign workers for illegal employment.

The operation lasted more than 48 hours, upon which a total of 44 persons, comprising six alleged members of the syndicate and 38 foreign workers, were arrested. Items such as work permit cards, name lists of workers, and Singpass tokens were seized, amidst ongoing investigations.

Commenting on the operations, Kevin Teoh, Divisional Director of MOM’s Foreign Manpower Management Division, said: "MOM takes a serious view of bringing in foreign workers without a job and allowing these foreign workers to find their own employment. We will take offenders to task, and will continue our efforts to detect and take down syndicates that perpetuate such offences."

If convicted, employers can be imprisoned up to two years, fined up to S$6,000 per charge and caned as well. Employers who hire foreign workers seeking illegal employment face a fine of between S$5,000-30,000 or up to 12 months’ imprisonment or to both. They may also be barred from employing foreign workers.

Main contractors who are found to have illegal workers at their worksites are liable to be fined up to S$15,000 or imprisoned up to 12 months’ or both. They will also be barred from employing foreign workers.

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MOM stated that syndicates that illegally bring in foreign labour typically set up shell companies, and hire fall guys as directors with the view of misusing their Singpass accounts to make fraudulent work pass applications.

They obtain the quota to employ foreign workers using "phantom workers", however there is no actual employment. The syndicates then go on to collect large amounts of kickbacks from the foreign workers.

Many foreign workers actually conspire with the syndicates, and willingly pay large amounts of kickbacks to be part of the scam, in order to obtain a work pass to stay in Singapore. They then find their own employment illegally.

In 2015, MOM conducted four major operations against syndicates involved in the illegal importation of labour. These syndicates had set up four companies and had brought in approximately 300 workers. A total of 12 syndicate members were arrested.

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