News/US: Perdue Ends Program For Korean Immigrants Brokers Charged Workers High Fees

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Subject: News/US: Perdue Ends Program For Korean Immigrants Brokers Charged Workers High Fees
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Wed Mar 15 2000 - 17:13:06 EST


Perdue Ends Program For Korean Immigrants Brokers Charged Workers High Fees
By Peter Pae
The Washington Post, February 25, 2000

Perdue Farms Inc., the nation's third-largest poultry producer, has
terminated a program that brought hundreds of Korean immigrants to work in
its processing plants on the Eastern Shore.

The company said it made the decision after an internal investigation
prompted by a Washington Post article detailing how white-collar,
middle-class Koreans, desperate to immigrate to the United States, were
paying as much as $30,000 each to work in chicken plants.

For more than 25 years, hundreds of Koreans a year have come to the United
States by paying immigration brokers who advertise the poultry jobs in
Korean newspapers as a shortcut to America. In return for working at the
chicken plants, the immigrants receive legal permanent U.S. residency for
themselves and their families under a federal program to fill unskilled jobs.

Even under the program, it can take years for a worker to enter the United
States, but the arrangement still sharply reduces the usual wait. Some
Korean immigrants coming to the chicken plants were required by brokers to
sign a pledge to work at the plant for one year and to make an additional
$5,000 deposit that would be returned only after they completed the term.

Perdue officials said they had been unaware of the one-year agreements or
the fees paid by the workers until the Post article was published. As a
result of its internal investigation, the company said it made "personnel
changes" in its human resources department. A Perdue spokeswoman declined
to be more specific, citing company policy not to discuss personnel matters.

Because private brokers maintain the waiting lists for the program, it is
unclear how many Koreans will not be able to immigrate because of Perdue's
policy change.

The firm, which is based in Salisbury, Md., and whose Showell plant is the
single largest employer of Korean workers, has also begun posting signs in
Korean telling employees the "company does not have a one-year employment
rule."

"We want your long-term employment, but we will abide by your decision,"
the sign reads.

No law governs financial transactions between brokers and the workers, but
U.S. regulations forbid employers to require a worker to stay in a job for
a fixed time as a condition for obtaining a green card.

"We wanted to make sure there was no misunderstanding," said Tita Cherrier,
Perdue's spokesman.

Perdue officials said that they didn't find anything illegal about the
transactions but that they were troubled by the deposit system and the
fees. When Perdue purchased the Showell plant in 1995, it agreed to honor
visa applications for foreign workers made by the previous owners.

In a letter to the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, Perdue said that although it
"will continue to offer employment to any original applicants" who are in
the pipeline to arrive, it will not "under any circumstance" offer
employment to any individuals who are substituted for original applicants
who took themselves off the waiting list. Many of the Koreans who arrived
recently are substitutes for original applicants. The substitutes paid
three to four times as much in fees, or up to $30,000, to jump ahead of
others on the waiting list, according to current and former workers.

Perdue's Cherrier said there are a "couple of hundred approved applications
in the pipeline," though it was unclear how many of the applications
involve substitutions.

"Recently, certain concerns were raised about the program, specifically the
fees charged by individuals in Korea who serve as employment services for
the applicants," wrote Robert H. Heflin, Perdue's vice president for human
resources. "Following a thorough review . . . we would like to clarify our
position regarding the offers of employment."

The move angered dozens of Koreans, some of whom have been waiting since
1992 to immigrate to the United States.

An official with Hyundai Emmigration Development Corp., an immigration
service agency in Seoul, said yesterday that at least three clients had
their applications withdrawn in the past week.

"They are furious," said Kim Kyu-Ho, a director of the agency. "These
people have been waiting since 1992. And now their hopes are gone."

In a written statement, Tai Young Lee, a Baltimore businessman whose
company has arranged many of the transactions, said Perdue's decision "will
bring a great deal of harm and damage to innocent individuals."

Perdue is "destroying the dreams and hopes of hundreds of Koreans and their
families who have been waiting for years to immigrate to America," Lee
said, noting that the decision will affect about 45 of his Korean clients.

Lee also confirmed that the deposits, which he called "performance bond
agreements," were being returned to Perdue workers. Without explanation, he
said his company "decided to adopt a different program."

"People who got their money back are pretty happy about it, but they don't
know what to do," said one worker, noting that some workers still wrongly
fear that if they left their jobs, their green card could be revoked or
their future citizenship jeopardized.

"We haven't seen any exodus" of workers, Cherrier said.

Melanie Orhant <<morhant@igc.org>>
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