'Recruitment' company mystery deepens
Mystery is deepening around a recruiter claiming to offer work with American companies paying up to USD$5000 a month after one client claimed they offered him a purported contract with a Hilton hotel which the company later described as a "fraudulent scheme".
The Beneficial Future for Samoa company and its owner, Alo Faamanu Vaai, last month defended the legitimacy of its business after some applicants complained of having to pay $50 to register to apply for jobs. Complainants, Mr. Vaai said, were unsuccessful applicants.
The Samoa Observer has also established that while Mr. Vaai claims to be registered under his own name as a provider of seasonal labour under the Ministry of Commerce Industry and Labor (M.C.I.L.) scheme that Government agency says he is not.
The Samoa Observer was approached by Howard Seumanutafa, a Beneficial Future client who applied for a work opportunity at the Hilton Fort Worth Hotel (based in the U.S. state of Texas) this August and received a contract purporting to be from Hilton, one of the world's largest hotel brands.
“I received an email claiming to be from Hilton Fort [Worth] hotel using an email address of ([email protected]) with my work contract,” he said.
The contract stated that he successfully attained a job in room-housekeeping/reservations with a salary of USD $2,500 a month with accommodations and meals all provided. It included generous allowances totalling well over USD$1000 a month including "Hazard and Inconvenience"; car maintenance and entertainment.
“I was referred to the company’s lawyer who they said [would] handle the visa application," he said.
The lawyer, a certain John Muldoons who purported to be an immigration attorney, used a hotmail e-mail address and requested a fee of $350 to process his working visa.
“You are to resume duty on urgent notice," an e-mail from Mr. Muldoons read.
"You will fill your Ds-160 Visa application online and I shall inform you if there are any other documents you are to provide."
“However, before processing your visa application, you should register with the immigration attorney first at this consulate. Registration processing and handling charge is $350 US Dollars."
The fee was described as being composed of an urgent visa application charge of $100; a $190 visa registration fee and $60 handling charge.
According to the Texas Bar Association there is no lawyer registered in the state of Texas by the name of John Muldoons or even John Muldoon.
In September this year the U.S. Embassy in Apia issued a warning to visa applicants to avoid paying visa application fees in advance.
“It has come to the attention of the Embassy that there are websites claiming to be able to complete your DS-160 and book an appointment for you online after you pay the visa fee,” a statement released on the Apia Embassy's Facebook page at the time said, noting that only cash payments at the Embassy on the day of interview were accepted.
"In Samoa the U.S. Embassy has not contracted with anyone to collect payment."
Mr. Vaai said these warnings only pertained to non-professional visas and working visas must be obtained via the website of the American Government.
The e-mail from the purported immigration lawyer said that the fees are to be paid by Mr. Seumanutafa to his visa officer whom will then pay it to the Embassy on his behalf.
It followed with a request to send the money via a payment service, Moneygram, to a different person, Alma Cadaing, based in another city in Texas, Houston. He was assured these expenses would be refunded upon arrival in the United States.
The name of the city in which the Hilton Hotel was based - Fort Worth - was misspelled in several forms on the contract, and often referred to as "Hilton Fort". This and other irregularities prompted Mr. Seumanutafa to contact the Hilton Group to verify the legitimacy of the contract.
A Recruitment Coordinator from Hilton, Julie Hirst, in an e-mail to Mr. Seumanutafa, said Hilton only listed job vacancies on its official website.
Ms. Hirst said the Hilton Group was working with authorities to track down "various individuals and organizations" are contacting people offering "false employment opportunities with Hilton".
“It appears that the communication you received is part of this fraudulent scheme," she said.
“We are taking this matter extremely seriously, and are currently working with the appropriate legal authorities to terminate this fraudulent scheme."
Mr. Seumanutafa said he wanted to use his experience to warn people to be wary of work schemes other than those officially offered via the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour.
“The scammers always target vulnerable people usually our locals living in rural areas because they either do not have enough knowledge to understand what is happening but just want to provide a better life for their families," he said.
But when Samoa Observer approached Mr. Vaai about Mr. Seumanutafa's allegations, he disputed them strenuously.
“He has no proof to back up his allegations. Howard received a contract from the Hilton but cannot afford to pay the $350 which is for the visa,” he said.
“[The] Hilton does not want him because of his attitude. He keeps asking them and keeps [making] false statements to the Hilton."
But when challenged on the question that only the Ministry of Commerce Industry and Labour (M.C.I.L.) could arrange seasonal workers' schemes he claimed he was registered with the Government department.
"I am registered under my name," he said.
But according to Sa’u Taupisi Fa’amau, the Assistant Chief Executive Officer of Apprenticeship, Employment and Labour Market (A.E.L.M.) Division under M.C.I.L., the Government of Samoa does not have any affiliations with private organisations or companies that conduct private registration for work overseas as part of seasonal work.
When asked if he had proof he was registered he said:
"I did. If this is the case they want to remove my name. This is what I have [had] done [to me] before.
"They know very well I register my name under the labour."
Mr. Vaai said he did not have a copy of his registration as a labour provider with M.C.I.L. with him:
"That's the only thing I'm missing. But they know. This is what they did before. They did this so many times with me," he said.
"I misplaced my copy [of my registration documents].
"That's the only thing I misplaced. They can play whatever they play."
“Under the Samoan Government it is solely conducted by the Labour and Employment Export Program (L.E.E.P.) Division of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour at no cost," Sa'u said
He also disputed that it was illegitimate to have candidates ask to pay money to a third party in order for visa processing.
"I pay for the visa if I want to help [potential candidates]," he said.
"The U.S. embassy in Apia can only issue a visiting visa but not a working visa."
In a piece in Samoa Global News published in September more than 100 prospective applicants were reported to have joined a recruitment seminar promising seasonal work opportunities with companies such as the Hilton "Fort" and Coca-Cola in America and Canada.
A company representative, Enoka Sio, told Samoa Global News that the expected wages for a cashier's position at the hotel would be USD$2,900 per month, not including benefits such as transport, accommodation and meals.
“The total package for that type of position would be around $5,000 USD [per month],” he said.
In an interview with Mr. Vaai, he said that they were looking at 20 people to go work at the Hilton Fort in America sometime this month.
Audrey Wang, a spokeswoman for the Hilton Group said that the hotel chain worked with a list of specific recruitment companies only:
"This is not a recruitment provider that we recognise, nor do we have a property named “Hilton Fort” in our portfolio of nearly 6,000 hotels. For those interested in a hospitality career with Hilton, we strongly encourage exploring opportunities directly at [our official website," she said.
Mr. Vaai refused to comment when asked about his opinion on Hilton’s response that no other agency can recruit workers.
E-mailed questions to the Asia Pacific headquarters of Hilton Hotels were not answered by press time on Thursday.