Some Hong Kong employment agencies have been collaborating with foreign entities, including in Russia and Turkey, to defraud domestic workers into “professional” jobs overseas where they end up in legal limbo and are paid far less than promised, as the intermediaries rake in big commissions.

The recruitment scam started three years ago when more than a thousand Filipinos were enticed to work abroad for higher salaries than they could earn as maids in Hong Kong, Headline Daily reported, quoting a business insider.

The intermediaries promoted the overseas jobs in newspapers, on social media and by word of mouth, netting HK$3,000 (US$384) in commission for each successful case.

Domestic workers, particularly those with higher education or training in nursing or medical-care fields, were told that they could get jobs as nurses, teachers and clerical workers in places like Turkey and Russia because of the demand for such services.

Interested workers needed to pay HK$8,000 to HK$28,000 to the intermediaries to apply. However, if they were unable to obtain work permits, they would find themselves having to work illegally for the equivalent of just HK$3,000 a month.

Hong Kong Union of Employment Agencies chairman Thomas Chan said around a hundred intermediaries in the city will arrange this kind of overseas jobs, pocketing HK$20,000 to H$30,000 as handling fees from Russian or Turkish employers for each successful case.

Tang Kin-wah, organizing secretary of the Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions, said some of these intermediaries had hired Filipinos to promote the overseas jobs in Victoria Park in Causeway or Central on Hong Kong Island.

Leung Hing-ki, chairman of the Hong Kong TKI Association, a group that provides support to Indonesian migrant workers (tenaga kerja Indonesia, or TKI), said the intermediaries worked with Russian counterparts to arrange forged nursing or medical certificates so as to apply for visas for the domestic workers as professional personnel. The workers needed to pay HK$28,000 for the “service.”