Fraudulent labor recruiters dupe Mexican migrants

Pedro Clemente, 18, and his wife Maria Rafael, 17, undocumented farm laborers from Mexico, work in an artichoke field in Thermal, Calif.


JEREMY HOBSON: In some parts of Mexico, getting a work-visa for the U.S. is like winning the lottery. Unless, of course, that work-visa is a fraud.

From Monterrey, Mexico, Marketplace's Jeff Tyler has this report on a scam that's targetting poor migrant workers.

JEFF TYLER: When he came to the United States, Jose Paz expected to work in construction. He says he and other migrants each paid Mexican recruiters $400 to get legal work in the U.S. But when he arrived, there were no jobs.

JOSE PAZ: The recruiters falsified signatures for real companies so they could get the group into the country.

Paz was stranded in Colorado in the winter.

PAZ: We stayed there without money. We didn't have clothes for the cold climate. So we suffered a lot.

He had to borrow money to get home. In the end, a trip intended to enrich him actually cost Jose Paz about $1,800.

Luciano Escamilla investigates fraud for the U.S. consulate in Monterrey. He says immigrant workers are easy targets because they're desperate for work.

LUCIANO ESCAMILLA: The people want to hear good news. And the swindlers, they know what to say to these guys to get money.

Poor folks scrape together everything they can, only to lose it.

ESCAMILLA: We have heard everything from $100 to $5,000. People who sell their houses to get the money to travel to the U.S. And, at the end, they've got nothing.

As a rule of thumb, the U.S. consulate's Marc Ludeke recommends:

MARC LUDEKE: If someone is asking you to pay any fees upfront, then in all likelihood, that opportunity does not exist.

Visa fraud attracts hustlers on both sides of the border. Luke Durkin is the consulate's fraud prevention manager.

LUKE DURKIN: Employers in the United States will request more workers than they actually need. They will charge workers for those visas. Other times, people will submit entirely false petitions where they're charging workers for the visas.

The Migrants Attention Center in Monterrey helps workers avoid getting ripped off. It estimates that poor Mexican workers have invested more than $2 million in U.S. jobs that don't exist.

In Monterrey, Mexico, I'm Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.
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Our new scheduling system permits the perspective employer to pay the visa fee upfront on behalf of the employee and many employers are paying the fees directly. Thus any prospective worker that is asked to pay any fees upfront should be concerned. The visa fee for H2 visas is actually $150; the fee for tourist visas is $140.

Just to offer some clarification: it could be a bit misleading when Marc Ludeke of the U.S. Consulate says that if someone is asking you to pay fees upfront, the likelihood is that the opportunity does not exist, in regards to visa fraud. The process of applying for a visa and going to a U.S. Embassy for the interview costs around $140, which many would consider an upfront fee.

What amazing timing! I had never heard of anything like this, up until a couple of days ago...when my father fell victim of this exact scam, only with a twist! In his case, he is not an immigrant. He is a US citizen, with an impressive resume, and the position was a high profile (and high paying) one in Europe. He was well qualified, and not anyone you would think a scammer would go after (he even had law enforcement on his resume!). But sure enough, after signing the fake contract and booking his flight, the recruiters asked him to split the cost of the work visa up front. With his background skills and there being no language barrier between he and the actual employer (which is how he figured it out, eventually), luckily he was not as vulnerable, I suppose, as others are, but this is a real problem! The FBI said straight out when he called to report it that they were not interested in pursuing it, and that 'it happens all the time', which explains why these guys are so brazen and confident enough to go after anyone I guess. What do they have to lose? Luckily, my dad escaped, and we figured this was a weird prank. Your story opened my eyes to the scope of the issue, and the sad truth of how many people are taken advantage of in this way.
Thank you for the story!

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