The TECO official case in Kansas is not the first case of an alleged abuse of a foreign worker in the United States by a foreign diplomat.
In 2008, the GAO identified 42 household workers with A-3 or G-5 visas who alleged that they were abused by foreign diplomats with immunity from 2000 through 2008. The report said that the total number is likely higher for four reasons: 1)household workers’ fear of contacting law enforcement, 2) nongovernmental organizations’ protection of victim confidentiality, 3) limited information on some cases handled by the U.S. government, and 4) federal agencies’ challenges identifying cases. Read more here.
Taiwan News reported the following update on its TECO diplomat arrested in Kansas for “fraud in foreign labor contracting for fraudulently obtaining a Filipino servant for her residence.” Excerpts below:
A preliminary government investigation has found that a Taiwanese diplomat who has been arrested in Kansas City on labor fraud charges did not underpay her Filipina housekeeper as alleged, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said in a statement Monday. In the statement, the ministry explained why Jacqueline Liu, director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Kansas City, paid her maid US$400-US$450 as charged when the employment contract called for a monthly salary of US$1,240. The ministry said the maid wrote to Liu saying she was willing to have US$790 deducted from her salary per month to cover the costs of accommodation, food, health care and insurance, according to the investigation. “In this case, the maid would receive US$450 per month,” the ministry said, adding that Liu also gave the maid an additional US$140 every month for food and groceries. That made the actual payment US$590 per month, the same figure as that Liu reported to the MOFA when asking the ministry to reimburse her expenses, the statement said.
According to the affidavit in the criminal complaint, Jacqueline Liu, director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in Kansas City “paid the Filipino worker $400-450 per month, although the employment contract stipulated a salary of $1,240 per month. Liu allegedly required the victim to work six days a week, 16 to 18 hours a day, and forbid her to leave the house without permission. Under the terms of her employment contract, the affidavit says, she was to work no more than eight hours a day, 40 hours per week, and her presence was not required inside the residence except during working hours.”
Now – that Filipino servant worked in Kansas. For many years, the minimum wage in Kansas was set to $2.65, the lowest in the nation. The state wage was increased to match the federal level on January 1, 2010. Let’s say the servant worked for eight hours a day for six days a week, that would be $7.25 x 8 hours = $58 x 6 days=$348/week x 4 = $1,392 per month. If the contract stipulated a salary of $1,240 per month, that maid looks underpaid by $152 every month, right there and then.
However, the complaint also alleged that the victim was required to work “six days a week, 16 to 18 hours a day.” If true, she was seriously underpaid.
The Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in its reported statement says that US$790 was deducted from the servant’s salary per month “to cover the costs of accommodation, food, health care and insurance, according to the investigation.”
Wait a minute — 9 FAM 41.31 N9.3-3 Personal Employees of Foreign Nationals in Nonimmigrant Status is pretty clear about that. Visa regulations require that “The employer and the employee have signed an employment contract which contains statements that the employee is guaranteed the minimum or prevailing wages, whichever is greater, and free room and board.” That contract is required before a visa is issued. Read below:
A personal or domestic employee who accompanies or follows to join an employer who is seeking admission into, or is already in, the United States in B, E, F, H, I, J, L, M, O, P, or Q nonimmigrant status, must meet the following requirements:
(1) The employee has a residence abroad which he or she has no intention of abandoning (notwithstanding the fact that the employer may be in a nonimmigrant status which does not require such a showing);
(2) The employee can demonstrate at least one year’s experience as a personal or domestic employee;
(3) The employee has been employed abroad by the employer as a personal or domestic employee for at least one year prior to the date of the employer’s admission to the United States;
If the employee-employer relationship existed immediately prior to the time of visa application, the employer can demonstrate that he or she has regularly employed (either year-round or seasonally) personal or domestic employees over a period of several years preceding the domestic employee’s visa application for a nonimmigrant B-1 visa;
(4) The employer and the employee have signed an employment contract which contains statements that the employee is guaranteed the minimum or prevailing wages, whichever is greater, and free room and board, and the employer will be the only provider of employment to the employee;
(5) The employer must pay the domestic’s initial travel expenses to the United States, and subsequently to the employer’s onward assignment, or to the employee’s country of normal residence at the termination of the assignment.
Furthermore, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 includes the following:
“In Section 203 of the legislation, Congress has incorporated State’s requirement for an employment contract between a domestic or personal employee or servant applying for an A-3 or G-5 visa and the employer. This section also provides that the contract must include the employer’s agreement “to abide by all Federal, State, and local laws in the United States,” and not to withhold the passport, the employment contract, or other personal property of the employee. The contract must also include “information on the frequency and form of payment, work duties, weekly work hours, holidays, sick days, and vacation days.”
So not only are diplomatic employers required under U.S. law to pay minimum wage, and provide free room and board, they also are prohibited from withholding the passports of their foreign workers.
Temporary workers/students in the United States have the right to:
- Be treated and paid fairly;
- Not be held in a job against your will;
- Keep your passport and other identification documents in your possession;
- Report abuse without retaliation;
- Request help from unions, immigrant and labor rights groups and other groups; and
- Seek justice in U.S. courts.
See more here.
Meanwhile, the Kansas City Star quotes the U.S. lawyer for the TECO representative: “Our next step is trying to finalize a plea agreement with the United States Attorney’s Office.”