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08 July 2013

“Excuse me, are you really an FDW?” – MOM on the look out for bogus FDWs

08 July 2013

Working in MOM has made me more keenly aware of issues affecting foreign workers. As an investigation officer working on cases involving mostly foreign domestic workers (FDWs), I have come across many of them during the course of interviews and investigations.

Most FDWs are here to earn an honest and decent living, with the hope of giving their families back home a better life. However, at the Employment Standards Branch of the Foreign Manpower Management Division, we have also come across some who claim to be FDWs, only to be working illegally elsewhere or in other occupations once they reach our shores.

Knock Knock

To weed out these “imposters”, I was part of an island-wide operation (ops) on 28 May, during which we knocked on doors of more than 40 households as we had reasons to verify the employment status of their FDWs.

ESB officers interviewing a resident from one of the targeted households.
Not Your Ordinary Ops

I was eager to spring into action when told of the ops. Many of you must be thinking now. You call that an ops? Just knocking on doors and asking routine questions?

That’s understandable, as most of you would think that an ops would be action-packed, just like those you watch in TV dramas. But, ours was a really different kind of ops – one that required some understanding of the human psyche, body language, and communication techniques.

It was important to assess the immediate response from the employers after we identified ourselves as MOM officers wanting to speak to their FDWs. The initial moments were full of suspense as we had no idea what to expect after knocking on the doors. Would the employer be cooperative or nasty?  Would they even open the door? These were some questions that ran through my mind during the ops.


Besides a routine interview, ESB officers also have to pay attention to the tone and body language of the interviewees, which may speak more than their actual words.

Looking for Tell-Tale Signs

The employer’s initial response and body language provide tell-tale signs of whether he has something to hide. We were looking out for signs that the employer was trying to pull a fast one on us. I had to be tactful and apply our interview techniques to ascertain if the employment relationship was genuine or a sham. We were fully prepared for any scenarios that might crop up.

I visited one of the residences and found the “employer” in the unit.  He of course, claimed that he was the legitimate employer of the FDW. However, when I entered the house for further checks, I found it strange that the “employer” and the “FDW” shared the same room and bed.  And as I probed further on the whereabouts of the FDW, the “employer” claimed that she was buying dinner for him from Lucky Plaza.  Upon further checks, intimate photographs of the “employer” and the “FDW” were found in the house. Suspecting something fishy going on between them, I flagged this case for investigations into a possible false declaration. 


“Employer” and “FDW” shared the same bed, and the unusual sight of undergarments of both found hung together.

Our Ops Results

The ops ended a few hours later, with a catch of four suspected cases of “bogus FDWs”. My team at the Employment Standards Branch will also be following up with FDWs of six households who were not found at the residential premises indicated in their work permit cards.

In 2011 and 2012, 41 FDWs and employers have been convicted for false declaration offences.

(Anyone found to have fraudulently provided false information to MOM for the  application of work passes commits an offence under Section 22 (1)(d) of the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act. Offenders can be fined up to $20,000 and/or 24 months’ imprisonment.)

Safeguarding the Integrity of the Work Pass Regime

MOM pays “surprise visits” to audit selected employers of foreign workers from time to time. Bona fide employers of FDWs need not worry. MOM is only going after those who circumvent the work pass system and to weed out foreigners holding on to work passes when they are not in genuine employment.  

We thank the employers who cooperated with us during the checks. It was inevitable that the checks had to be conducted at night when everyone was at home and we know some might have been inconvenienced. Our advice to all employers is they should not be part of any scam to facilitate the stay of foreigners who have no right to be here.

As for me, I am very much ready to start work on the next operation!


Michelle (Employment Standards Officer)
Ministry of Manpower
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