Lao police arrest middlemen who issued fake visas for workers to go to South Korea

Lao police have arrested three fraudsters posing as labor recruiters who cheated at least 100 Laotians who paid U.S.$1,000 to more than U.S.$2,000 each for fake tourist visas so they could go to South Korea and illegally obtain work, a law enforcement official said.

“Laotians cheating one another,” said the police officer on condition of anonymity, because he was not authorized to speak to the media. The fraudsters “made fake visas to trick them” after “learning the trick from Thailand.”

Lao laborers usually enter foreign countries on tourist visas to look for jobs. Thousands seek employment in neighboring Thailand, where they receive much higher pay for low-skilled jobs in fishing, manufacturing, and construction, than they would at home.

But some have opted to go to more developed South Korea, where farms have become more reliant on seasonal foreign workers to make up for chronic labor shortages in rural areas.

People from countries that have a seasonal workforce partnership program with the South Korean government are eligible for temporary work. Local governments in South Korea then designate thousands of foreign workers annually to perform legal temporary labor in the farming and fishing sectors for three to five months.

An employee who used to work for a recruitment agency in Laos also said the Lao middlemen got the idea from fraudsters in Thailand who have done the same thing.

“It happened over there first,” said the man who did not want to be identified out of fear of retribution for speaking to the press. “They make fake tourist visas and sell them for high fees to workers who want to go to work in South Korea,” he told RFA.

They also lie by telling the workers that there are companies approved by Laos’ Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare that will hire them when they arrive in South Korea, the source said.

Some of the workers with the fake tourist visas could not enter the country and had to return to Laos, he added.

Even if Lao authorities convict and sentence the fraudsters, only a few workers will get back their money because the middlemen don’t have the funds to repay them, said a Vientiane resident with knowledge of the situation.

“It’s a lot of money for Lao workers [to pay],” he said.

Laos’ Labor Ministry allows many legitimate agencies in the country to recruit laborers for short-term work in South Korea’s agricultural industry, said another employee who used to work for such a firm.

Laotians should be aware that some middlemen who falsely claim that they work for a recruitment agency will say that they can procure visas within 10-20 days, though in reality the issuance of visas takes more than 100 days, he said. “If the middlemen said they can get a visa within 5, 10 or 20 days, they are lying,” said the source.

Laotians must have a passport and a “yellow book” issued by the Labor Ministry that allows them to work legally in South Korea, he said. Laotians can go to South Korea to work legally if their documents are issued by the ministry, the person said.

“If they don’t, and they pay money for middlemen to do it for them, then they are cheated,” he said.

Radio Free Asia Copyright © 1998-2016, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036

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