2017-02-24 11:58:05

Two men stood trial in Beijing on Thursday for illegally bringing domestic workers from Southeast Asia into China.

The two suspects, surnamed Lü and Wu, are being charged with falsifying visa application materials and lying about the purpose of entry for more than 10 female workers from the Philippines and Indonesia, according to an online transcript of the court proceedings.

During the trial, the men, both in their 20s, confessed that for each successful case, they received a brokerage fee of between 20,000 and 50,000 yuan ($2,900 to $7,300) from the maids’ employer, The Beijing News reported Friday.

The operation was exposed on July 14, 2015, when one Filipina woman managed to escape from the rented apartment where she and five others were being held under lock and key by the two suspects, and went to the police. “The woman had been jobless for one month and was not allowed to go outside — that’s why she came up with the idea of escaping,” the case’s prosecutor told The Beijing News.

The court did not say when it expected to reach a verdict.

In China, it is illegal for individuals to recruit foreign workers, according to regulations from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security. In effect, this means that most foreign maids work in China illegally.

Agencies offering to connect customers with foreign domestic workers nevertheless exist openly in China’s big cities. When Sixth Tone contacted one such company posing as a client, an agent said that hiring a domestic worker from the Philippines costs 7,000 to 7,500 yuan per month, and that maids who can speak Mandarin are more expensive. The company charges its customers an annual fee of 10,000 yuan.

In comparison, Chinese maids in Shanghai earn about 4,000 yuan per month on average, according to 99ayi.com, a website with listings for domestic help. Foreign maids are viewed as more diligent and obedient, and as such command higher salaries. A news report from a Beijing newspaper said that Southeast Asian maids earn around 6,000 yuan per month in the capital.

“To be honest, foreign maids are not legal in China,” the Shanghai agent said, “but how else could you possibly hire a maid with a college degree in the domestic market?”

One of the company’s maids, a 27-year-old Filipina named Irene, told Sixth Tone in Chinese that she studied nursing in the Philippines before coming to China eight years ago. “I worked in Zhejiang province for five and a half years, nursing a boy from when he was a baby,” she said.

Irene does not have a Chinese visa. When asked whether she travels with the family she works for, Irene said: “I prefer to stay in Shanghai, ma’am. If I travel, the police will catch me.”

In 2014, a domestic worker from the Philippines was deported after leaving her employer in Beijing to travel to Shenzhen, in southern China’s Guangdong province, for a better salary. Her former employer was the one who reported her to the authorities.

Last year, the embassy of the Philippines posted on its website an “advisory for Filipinos working in China,” in which it advised Philippine nationals employed in China “to refrain from working part-time or full-time for employers who do not provide the appropriate visa.”

The six maids who were locked up in the Beijing apartment have all been sent back to the Philippines.

(Header image: Two suspects identified only by their surnames, Lü (right) and Li, appear for a hearing at the Fengtai District People’s Court in Beijing, Feb. 24, 2017. Peng Ziyang/Beijing News for Sixth Tone)