Three Filipino graduate students appeared at a media event on Monday to unveil how they had allegedly fallen victim to a study scam run by employment agents and a Taiwanese tertiary institution. They claimed they unwittingly became cheap labor forced to work double the regulation number of hours in a Taiwanese factory, for little or no pay.

The students from the Philippines, who intended to pursue master’s degrees at Yu Da University of Science and Technology (YDUST) in Miaoli, were allegedly forced into working instead, the Taiwan Times reported. The newspaper cited the press conference on March 4, which was held by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators Chang Liao Wan-chien and Huang Kuo-shu.

Three Filipino victims, identified as Raymark, Trixie and Joel, who were among 52 peers enrolled in the university for further studies in April and September 2018, were instead forced to sign into a work/study program as soon as they landed in Taiwan.

While the university told them that they could earn NT$150 (US$4.86) per hour and the working hours were between 12 and 20 hours per week, they were in fact only paid NT$140 (US$4.54) per hour and forced to work 12 hours daily, four or five days a week at a tile manufacturing plant.

This was a clear violation of the Employment Services Act as overseas international students are permitted to work a maximum of 20 hours per week.

The university tuition fees (NT$11,000, or US$356) would be directly deducted from their monthly wages; however, the remaining income was subjected all to undisclosed deductions for things such as counseling or transportation, leaving the students with no money for themselves. They were, in the end, working without pay.

Worse still, the work was totally unrelated to their fields of study, and “penalties” were written into their contract with the university.

A fine of US$1,000 would have to be paid to a Philippines broker named “Faith Association,” if a student refused to accept the work he or she was asked to do, or chose to resign.

Another fine of NT$500,000 (US$16,211) would be imposed if they disclosed to anyone details of  the “job location, nature of the job, and length of working hours.”

DDP legislator Huang Kuo-shu criticized the university for turning international students into “cheap slave laborers.” He called on the Ministry of Education to conduct a thorough investigation to determine whether the university served as an accomplice to the agent.