Private recruiters and intermediaries in Mexico engage in widespread fraudulent and abusive practices, and government efforts to address them have to date proven inadequate. The Mexican Constitution bans the charging of recruitment fees for migrant workers, but in practice fee charging is common amongst private recruiters and enforcement of the legal prohibition is extremely rare. Surveys suggest that up to 58% of workers going to the US - where there is no government- facilitated recruitment - may be charged illegal fees amounting to four months (or more) of the Mexican minimum wage. Many workers take out loans to pay the recruitment fee. Informal, unlicensed recruiters are particularly likely to charge fees to workers, but the practice exists among licensed operators as well. It is common for workers to find that terms and conditions they were promised in Mexico do not materialise on arrival. A 2020 Centro de los Derechos del Migrante survey of Mexican H-2A workers in the US found that 44% were not paid the wages they were promised. In many cases, recruiters charge workers fees to secure jobs that do not actually exist. While the government is supposed to verify each overseas contract for Mexican workers, this does not happen in practice, and enforcement efforts against unlicensed recruiters - who often have ties to the largely rural communities in which they recruit - fall between the cracks of the STPS and the police. Illegal charging of fees to SAWP migrant workers, who are recruited by the government, is less common and appears to be restricted to cases of corruption among officials. However, workers migrating through the SAWP are required every year to pay for some travel and administrative costs related to recruitment, charges that are in tension with international standards on recruitment fees. SAWP workers, consulates and worker organisations also report that it is not uncommon for farms to not respect the terms of the standard contract, particularly in relation to housing and pay.
All of Canada’s provinces prohibit the charging of recruitment fees to workers, with many explicitly extending the prohibition beyond labour recruiters to include employers. Federal immigration law reinforces provincial legislation on fee charging, and TFWP visas and work permits cannot be approved unless workers have a signed employment contract. Nevertheless, fee charging and associated fraudulent practices continue to be documented, and experts say they remain a significant problem. The amount workers pay varies significantly depending on their sector of employment, country of origin, and ability to borrow, but sums of between CAD$5,000 (US$4,100) and CAD$15,000 (US$12,400) are typical. Such sums may amount to many months or even years of salary in workers’ home countries. Workers may be falsely promised the prospect of permanent residency to secure their agreement to pay. Investigations have uncovered abusive temporary labour agencies operating as both recruiter and employer, providing services to major brand names. The Mexican consulate told us of cases where employers recover recruitment costs they have paid to agencies by making deductions from the salaries of workers - who may have already paid fees themselves to the recruiter. Provincial officials noted the difficulty in pursuing recruitment-related abuse, as recruiters - who may be outside Canada - often leave minimal evidence, asking for payment in cash and not signing contracts. Workers routinely pay for jobs that don’t exist, and sometimes only discover this deception upon their arrival in Canada. The role of immigration consultants in illegal fee charging is notably problematic. Unlike recruiters, registered consultants are permitted to accept fees from prospective migrant workers to assist with immigration processes. As consultants may also operate as recruiters, this dual role opens up a grey area that has been exploited with relative ease. One consultant told us that, “the trouble is that selling jobs is where the money is to be made”. Saskatchewan and Manitoba have tried to tackle this conflict of interest in their legislation. There are also widely documented problems associated with “ghost” immigration consultants, who are unlicensed, in some cases operate from outside Canada, and often charge workers without providing any services.
Recommendations to the Mexican government:
- Proactively investigate unlicensed recruitment agencies and intermediaries and hold accountable those who subject to migrant workers to fraud and abuse.
- Work with Canada to align SAWP programme requirements with ILO standards on recruitment fees and related costs, to ensure that workers do not pay for costs related to their recruitment into the programme. In particular, migrant workers should not pay for the medical, travel, transport and work permit costs that are required to secure access to their employment.
Recommendations to the Canadian federal government:
- Carry out and publish a review of whether the policy of allowing immigration consultants to charge foreign nationals applying for temporary work permits is fully consistent with the ILO definition of recruitment fees and related costs, adopted in 2019, with a view to prohibiting the policy in the case of workers applying to the TFWP and other programmes where work permits are linked to specific employers.
- Require employers to reimburse workers the costs associated with low-wage temporary workers’ work permits, in line with ILO guidelines.
- Ensure that the new immigration consultants regulator has sufficient resources to ensure that it can effectively enforce the law and proactively investigate cases of exploitation, among both licensed and unlicensed consultants.
- Increase the number of proactive CBSA investigations into fraudulent activities by immigration consultants, including unlicensed operators.
Recommendations to Canada’s federal and provincial governments:
- Prohibit immigration consultants from being involved in the recruitment process for the same worker, in line with legislation adopted by the province of Manitoba, or at a minimum, ensure that immigration consultants inform both workers and employers if they are providing services to both, and require that both parties consent.