Singapore Takes Down Illegal Labor Importation Syndicate

Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM) recently mounted a simultaneous operation at several locations and successfully dismantled a syndicate involved in setting up shell companies for the purpose of bringing in foreign workers for illegal employment.

The operation lasted more than 18 hours and covered locations such as Jalan Besar, Little India and Toa Payoh.  Residential units, office premises and workers’ quarters were inspected as part of the operation.

A total of 13 persons, comprising three suspected syndicate members and 10 foreign workers, were arrested during the operation. Items such as NRICs, mobile phones, name lists of workers, bank transaction receipts, Singpass tokens as well as employment documents were seized. Investigations are ongoing.

Modus Operandi

Syndicates that illegally bring in foreign workers would typically set up shell companies (i.e. companies with no actual business operations). They would hire fall guys as directors of these shell companies, and misuse their Singpass accounts to make fraudulent work pass applications.

These syndicates obtain the quota to employ foreign workers using “phantom local workers” and profit from collecting large amounts of kickbacks from the foreign workers. As there is no actual employment, the foreign workers are released to find their own employment.

Labor Syndicates Severely Undermine Work Pass Framework

Labor syndicates severely undermine the integrity of our work pass framework at many levels, including deceiving the authorities of operating a genuine business and bringing in foreign workers without any jobs for them. The foreign workers are subsequently released to find their own jobs, and they end up working illegally across all industrial sectors.

The syndicates also put the well-being of the foreign workers at risk, as shell companies would not be providing basic care and protection such as medical care, insurance protection and accommodation.

Illegal Labor Importation is a Serious Offense

Commenting on the operation, Kevin Teoh, Divisional Director of MOM’s Foreign Manpower Management Division, said: “MOM does not condone anyone who blatantly disregards our work pass controls to profit from the illegal importation of labour. MOM will continue with our efforts to dismantle syndicates that perpetuate such offenses.  Strong enforcement action will be taken against those responsible.”

In the last two years, MOM has conducted six major operations against syndicates involved in the illegal importation of labour. These syndicates had set up nine companies and had brought in approximately 700 workers. A total of 19 syndicate members were arrested.

Said Gerald Tay, a senior investigation officer who was involved in the operation, “The operation is a success as we have arrested our suspects and secured important evidence. There is great teamwork and I am happy to be part of this operation. But this is only just the beginning as we continue with our investigation to ensure that appropriate penalties are imposed against the offenders.”


Under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA), persons convicted for illegal labour importation face imprisonment between six months and two years, and a fine up to $6,000 per charge.  If convicted for six or more charges, caning will also be imposed.

Employers who hire foreign workers seeking illegal employment face a fine of between $5,000 and $30,000 or up to 12 months’ imprisonment, or to both. They may also be barred from employing foreign workers.


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