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Story: Vietnamese Workers Exploited in United States

May 13, 2011
Plain English Version

Chin Ba Ngo was a welder in Hanoi, Vietnam. He answered a television ad offering a good paying job in the United States. The job paid $15 an hour, plus overtime. He paid $10,000 to agents for the referral to the job. Mr. Ngo had to borrow money from relatives and mortgage his home to pay the fee. He believed he would earn enough money to make it profitable.

Two years later, Mr. Ngo is poor and living in exile in Houston, Texas. He is one of 50 Vietnamese welders who said they were treated like indentured servants in the United States. Their stories are the same as the story of Mr. Ngo.

The companies that took their money were associated with the government of Vietnam. An American company brought them to Texas. They worked for a shipyard. The company fired them after eight months. The company said their work visas had expired.

When the workers came to Houston, they moved into small apartments, two men to a bedroom. Each paid $500 a month in rent. The apartments were filthy and the air conditioners did not work. The company charged for transportation to work and for the equipment they used.

They were afraid to go home to Vietnam. They owed money to the companies that sent them over to the U.S. They were embarrassed to face their families.

A lawyer helped them. A lawsuit resulted in a $60 million out-of-court settlement with two American companies. The welders have not received any money. The companies have no assets.

The welders said they were able to earn $300 to $400 a week. Some managed to wire money home. The welders maintain they were restricted to the apartment complex and the worksite because of fear of deportation “It was like being confined in prison,” said Trang Nha, 29.

The companies involved in the situation denied any wrongdoing.

A lawsuit filed in federal court charges the Vietnamese companies recruiting them with taking part in a human trafficking scheme. The State Department concluded in a 2010 report, it is a system that leaves workers “highly vulnerable to debt bondage and forced labor.”

The New York Times


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