Scorched by scammers - Overseas employment agencies blame Ministry of Labour
Several local overseas-employment agencies have closed their doors in the last two years because of their inability to place workers in temporary jobs in the United States and the growth in the number of of unlicensed agents who are giving the industry a bad name.
Operator of OS Consulting Orville Scott said the American H-2B temporary employment programme, which has, for years, provided jobs for thousands of Jamaicans, has lost its appeal.
According to Scott, while unlicensed operators have been left to flourish, those who operate licensed employment agencies are struggling to make ends meet on a daily basis.
"I haven't been to my office since the start of this year. I haven't sent away anybody, and all my colleagues will tell you a similar story that apart from those who do like J1 visa applications, the H-2B, for the last two years, has been hit," Scott told The Gleaner.
The H-2B visa programme allows US employees to employ foreign nationals to fill temporary low-skilled and non-agricultural jobs. Most of these workers are recruited to work in hotels, forestry, recreation, and landscaping.
The J1 visa offers students cultural and educational exchange opportunities, plus summer employment and on-the-job training in the US.
But Scott said there has been a drastic reduction in the number of Jamaicans who have been able to get H-2B visas in recent years because the US government has implemented a cap on the number of workers admitted under the programme.
The cap was set at 66,000 workers annually, but US Congress had allowed returning workers to be exempt from this figure. This exemption has since ended.
"Every single day, I'm bombarded with phone calls from persons who want to leave the island. These are desperate persons. I have said to the Ministry [of Labour and Social Security] that they need to be aware that desperation will allow people to be scammed.
"Because if you have something, and it is in demand, people will give away their hard-earned money because they will think that it is their only way out," said Scott.
TOO MANY RESTRICTIONS
While unlicensed employment agents have sought to take advantage of this desperation, Scott argued that licensed agencies are faced with too many restrictions. Among them is the fact that they are not permitted to charge a fee from those they assist to get employment.
"The burden is significant because in order to keep a license, you have to keep an office open full-time, you have to have a physical address, you have to have a year-round license, even though you only operate for a few months out of the year," said Scott, who noted that they have to pay rent, utilities and other expenses.
"What the ministry is doing now is to say if you miss one quarterly report or if you don't send your quarterly report on time, we are going to strike you from the list. If you are late with this document, we are going to strike you from the list. Instead of coming up with some reasonable solutions, they are coming up with draconian measures," said Scott.
The business owner said he recalls a time when Jamaica was sending away as many as 15,000 workers in one year, but those days are no more.