Hordes of illegal workers crossing China's borders

Source:Global Times Published: 2010-7-12 2:14:00

Officers in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, intercept 18 illegal aliens from Pakistan, Ghana, Bangladesh and India, who tried to sneak into Hong Kong in May of 2009. The police busted a human trafficking ring, involving 8 "snakeheads." Photo: Xinhua

By Deng Jingyin

A small army of illegal aliens, mainly from neighboring countries including Vietnam and Laos, is streaming across China's porous borders every day, entering the country without proper work visas in hopes of finding better-paying jobs.

The influx of undocumented workers has drawn widespread concern.

Ah-Hua, 20, a female high school graduate, paid 500 yuan ($74) to a "snakehead," a human trafficker who helped her and her countrymen cross the border to enter China illegally earlier this year.

After walking for two days and nights, they arrived in Dongxing, Southwest China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, then transferred to Guangdong, the country's manufacturing hub, where Ah-Hua found work in a metal molding factory this January.

The dream of a better life in China ended for Ah-Hua and another 14 illegal migrants from Vietnam when local police in Zhongshan detained them early this month after receiving a tip-off.

They now face deportation.

The Vietnamese woman is devastated that she had to leave what she considers a good-paying job. As a quality control inspector in the metal molding factory, she earned a monthly salary of 1,400 yuan ($207) with free room and board.

"Here, we don't need to spend money on food and a dorm room, but in my country it is hard to find a job and the average salary for a similar job is only 400 yuan," she said.

An official surnamed Zhang from the Zhongshan Entry and Exit Administration Depart-ment told the Global Times that after sending money home to their families, Ah-Hua and some of her fellow countrymen managed to save up to 2,000 yuan ($295) in China before their unexpected deportation, which is "equal to a half year's salary in Vietnam."

Worker ants

Ah-Hua is one of thousands of foreign workers who have entered the country illegally in search of higher salaries, attracted by China's recent economic boom. A severe labor shortage in southern China, and higher salaries offered by factory owners in Guangdong has boosted the influx of illegal immigrants.

In Guangxi, official statistics showed that last year police detained 1,820 illegal migrants, stopped 4,839 people from crossing the border, and deported 2,218 migrants who had no work visas.

So far this year, at least 10,000 illegal migrants have swarmed into Chongzuo, Guangxi, according to Mo Shaoren, deputy head of Chongzuo's human resources and social security department.

In Chongzuo, the "sugar bowl" of China, many young men have left the sugar cane fields to go to work in larger cities, creating a labor shortage of 30,000 farmers and 50,000 during the busy season.

Smugglers often bring Vietnamese field workers across the border to fill in the labor gap.

"During the harvest season, there are many Vietnamese workers in the bus stations in Chongzuo, waiting for employment," Mo told the Xinhua News Agency in April.

Minimum wage

In March, another wave of Vietnamese migrants swarmed into Guangdong, which producing nearly a third of China's exports, after authorities there announced a 20 percent increase in the minimum wage.

According to the Guangdong Provincial Public Security Department, the police have been involved in six cases involving 154 illegal migrants in the first quarter of this year. A total of 180 illegal migrants were apprehended last year.

Vietnamese are considered hard working, obedient and cheap, so many factories prefer to hire them, turning a blind eye to their illegal status, the Yangcheng Evening News quoted Gao Qiang, manager of the metal molding factory where Ah-Hua worked.

His factory once hired as many as 20 Vietnamese people, accounting for about half of its staff.

Since the Vietnamese workers were arrested by local police, the factory has had to shut down half of its machines for lack of operators.

Sun, boss of a garment costume factory in Dongguan of Guangdong who refused to name his company, told the Global Times that he employed more than 10 workers from Cambodia last year.

"They normally would work eight hours a day for an entire month without a day off. Domestic workers, especially the post-80s and 90s generations, refuse to work like that," he said.

Aliens influx

The number of illegal aliens entering China keeps growing, especially in more developed East China region.

Official statistics released in 2004 show that about 20,000 Africans were living in Guangzhou, and their numbers increase by 30 to 40 percent every year.


"It is really difficult to find the exact number of illegal migrants from other countries, but most of them are from South Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa," Gu Hong, an official of the Guangzhou Entry and Exit Administration Department, told the Global Times.

Gu Hong told the Global Times that most Vietnamese workers in Guangdong are illegal migrants and some remain in Guangdong after their work visas expire.

After becoming familiar with life in China, they always encourage their friends and relatives to follow them here.

It is difficult for illegal workers from Southeast Asia and African countries to get into China, but people from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos can easily cross over a long border with many openings and smuggling routes for contraband goods and migrant laborers.

"They are taken across the border by human traffickers and kept under wraps once they arrive, so although the authorities intensify the fight against illegal migrants, completely stopping them is a mission impossible," Chen Xinhao, a lawyer and immigration expert with the Beijing-based Yuecheng Law Firm, told the Global Times.

Although China's new labor law requires factories to offer contracts to workers, many migrants have only casual employment agreements that allow the factories to lay them off without warning.

According to the Law on Control of the Entry and Exit of Aliens, anyone who illegally employs foreign workers will be subject to a maximum fine of 50,000 yuan ($7,383).

"The fine is a small sum, which doesn't effectively prevent illegal migrants from working in China," Chen said.

Cross-border relations

Some experts suggest China to work with neighboring countries to make it legal for foreigners to work here, or live here to pursue their careers.

Wu Miaoling, 22, a Vietnamese student studying at Guangxi University for Nationalities, said in an interview with the Global Times that she would prefer to stay in China after graduation.

"In China, I have more opportunities and can earn more money as an interpreter or a tour guide," Wu said.

She said that recent university graduates in Vietnam can expect to earn around 1000- 1,500 yuan ($148-$221) in monthly salary for an entry-level job, but in China, the same job would pay 3,000-5,000 yuan ($443-$738) a month.

Chen Tiejun, from the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, the Yunan Academy of Social Sciences, said foreigners should be able to work legally.

"The reasonable entry of foreign labor would increase competitiveness in the region and help improve the market," Chen told the Global Times. "But all the entry procedures should be legal, because it's a must to maintain a sound social order and working environment."

He said there should be cooperation between China and the countries where the workers originate.

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