Filipino helpers are sought after in major cities in China, but they are still not allowed to work there. Photo: Weibo

A court in Shanghai has sentenced the manager of an employment agency to eight years in prison plus a fine of 200,000 yuan (US$29,079), for securing jobs for at least 24 Filipinos who entered China as tourists.

The defendant, surnamed Liu, was alleged to have recruited candidates in the Philippines with the help of two partners there. She helped candidates apply for tourist or transit visas and placed them in domestic workers’ jobs in cities around China. She then kept around 4,000 yuan (US$583) out of a helper’s 6,000-yuan monthly salary for six months as her “referral fee,” according to Xinhua.

The court heard that Liu raked in some 350,000 yuan in “fees”. She paid her two recruiters in the Philippines 730,000 yuan out of the 1.2 million yuan she docked from helpers’ wages. The recruiters, said to be a Chinese and a Filipino, will face separate charges.

Liu was charged as an aider and abettor, a felony under Chinese law that entails much more severe penalties compared with hiring illegal workers.

China still uses a strict quota and screening regime to limit the number of foreigners arriving as domestic workers. This is despite talk of Beijing having possibly reached a consensus with Manila to open its doors to young Filipino helpers.

High wages lure Filipino women to China, and middle-class families in major cities scramble to hire them because they can also tutor their kids in English.

The Shanghai agent’s promised 6,000 yuan monthly salary is noticeably higher than wages in Hong Kong, even after the minimum allowable wage there was increased to HK$4,410 (US$561) per month in September last year.

Immigrant worker rights advocacy groups say that those who enter China as tourists or on transit visits and who overstay their visas to work as helpers do so at their own risk. Because their contracts are not legally binding, often they will be exploited by agencies who pay late or take unexpected deductions out of their salaries. If caught, they will be deported and denied future entry to China, and in the worst case scenario, they may even face jail.