FOR close to two years, Maud Kwembeya (33) — of Zimunya in Mutare — has been harbouring thoughts of one day migrating to the United Kingdom (UK) in search of greener pastures.
A vastly experienced nurse aide, Kwembeya desperately wanted to work as a caregiver in Europe.
In those two years, she tried but dismally failed to make the dream move.
One day, the single mother of two received a message she thought would make her dream come true.
“The message came through a WhatsApp group. The sender indicated that he was an agent who could help me get a visa to work in the UK,” narrated Kwembeya.
Travelling all the way from Mutare, she met the supposed agent at an office in downtown Harare. After signing an affidavit and paying US$7 000, the agent told her to come back after two weeks so that she would collect her Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS).
When Kwembeya returned to Harare after the said two weeks, she was shocked when she discovered that the agent’s offices had been vacated and his mobile phone number was no longer in use.
She immediately realised she had been duped.
The ordeal left her traumatised.
“I borrowed part of the money from friends and relatives. My father sold five of his cattle and gave me the money. Now, I am in hot soup. The people who gave me money now want their dues,” a visibly disturbed Kwembeya said.
There has been a notable increase in the number of people who are being arrested and appearing in the courts on charges of defrauding unsuspecting victims in CoS scams.
A CoS is an electronic record issued by foreign employers to prove that one has secured a job.
It is often required by migrant workers who are applying for skilled or temporary worker visas in the UK or other European countries.
Investigations conducted by this paper revealed that the majority of people being duped are caregivers, who are recruited to look after the elderly and disabled people in the UK.
Recent reports indicate that Zimbabwe is among the top five countries that registered the highest number of citizens who were granted UK work visas in the past two years.
Fraudsters and greedy employers are taking advantage of desperate people who are eager to go overseas by fleecing them of their hard-earned cash.
The number of people arrested and appearing in courts on fraud charges involving certificates of sponsorship has been on the rise in recent years.
Danie Nyamunda, the director of Majestic Caregivers, recently appeared in court on charges of defrauding three people of US$12 560.
According to court papers, Nyamunda had promised her victims she would facilitate their certificates of sponsorship for them to travel and work in the UK health system.
After receiving various amounts, she failed to deliver and was subsequently arrested.
In a similar case, Chido Mukahadzi, of Harare, also recently appeared before a Harare magistrate on charges of defrauding desperate people seeking certificates of sponsorship to relocate to Europe.
It is alleged sometime in January this year, the complainant was processing documents to go to the UK and Mukahadzi offered to assist her for a fee.
Mukahadzi then told the complainant that she had obtained the CoS, which is part of the initial stage in obtaining a visa.
The complainant deposited US$1 800 into the accused’s account and was told she would receive the record after a week, which never happened, leading to her arrest.
The fraudsters lure their victims mainly through social media platforms.
In carefully crafted advertisements, the fraudsters claim they can easily facilitate the acquisition of a CoS for those intending to work in the UK.
After making payments, the victims are made to sign fake affidavits.
They are then issued with fake receipts and a fake CoS with non-existent addresses. After some time, the fraudsters start giving excuses, desert their offices or switch off their phones.
Others become hostile.
Some dubious employers also issue a fake CoS proof of payment.
Alice Muridzi, of Mabvuku in Harare, plans to migrate but fears she may be scammed.
“I wish to relocate to the UK but I fear I might engage dubious agents. It is difficult to tell whether one is genuine or fake,” Muridzi said.
Nelson Mukwindidza, of Budiriro in Harare, weighed in.
“The biggest challenge lies in differentiating fake agents from genuine ones. The majority of them are dubious and I do not know which one to approach.”
Nhamo Tarugarira, a UK-based legal expert, took time to explain the process.
“A certificate of sponsorship is a reference number that is given to a sponsored work visa applicant by their proposed sponsor. Contrary to what many people think, it is an electronic record and not a physical document,” Tarugarira said.
He said a CoS is a mandatory prerequisite for visa applications in the skilled and temporary worker categories.
According to Tarugarira, some employers in the UK are defrauding those seeking work in Europe by charging huge sums for locals to acquire the record.
The CoS can cost as much as £6 000. The lucky ones pay an average of £1 300 or £3 200 for a small sponsor or a large sponsor, respectively.
Information gleaned from the website GOV.UK — which outlines UK government services, among other things — clearly shows that some employers are making a killing out of desperate jobseekers.
According to the website, the amount paid by employers for the cost of certificates ranges from as little as £25 up to £239.
The employers might, however, pay a little more when they will be applying for a CoS for a jobseeker who will be seeking the skilled worker, senior or specialist worker visa.
This is called the “immigration skills charge”.
But, according to the UK government website, employers are not required to pay immigration skills charges for sponsorship occupations such as chemical/biological scientists, physical scientists, social/humanities scientists, and research and development managers.
Sponsors are also not required to pay if they are sponsoring a worker who was assigned a certificate before April 6, 2017.
Again, they will not need to pay the fee for any of the worker’s dependents such as wife, husband and children.
Despite being exempted from paying skilled charges, some of the jobseekers have been hoodwinked into forking out as much as US$8 000.
After being swindled out of their money through the illegal fees, some jobseekers are forced to work under exploitative conditions for very low wages.
Tarugarira warned companies in the health and social care sector which are recruiting from Zimbabwe and charging illegal fees that they are risking having their licences revoked.
“It is only a matter of time before the fraudsters are unmasked and banned,” Tarugarira said.
Rodwell Chiriseri, who runs a nurse aide training college in Harare, urged potential jobseekers to be cautious.
“There are a lot of bad apples within this sector and desperate jobseekers can be easily conned. I urge those who intend to go and work overseas to be patient and deal with reputable companies,” he said.
Andrew Nyamayaro, another UK-based attorney, argues CoS charges should be paid by the employer and not jobseekers.
He notes the total costs of getting a CoS is well under £2 000. He says those who have paid more can seek legal recourse.
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi urged the public to be cautious.
“People must be careful whenever they are dealing with the so-called employment agencies. They should first check and verify their legality and, if possible, engage relevant Government departments,” Asst Comm Nyathi said.
Scams involving issuance of fake certificates of sponsorship are not only confined to Zimbabwe.
Media reports show that the illegal practice is prevalent in many other countries, among them Nigeria, Ghana, India and Philippines.
Monsurat Temidayo Awodein, a Nigerian student studying in Scotland, was recently arrested after duping more than 40 Nigerians in a certificate of sponsorship scandal.
Reports say Awodein, who was working in cahoots with an unregistered firm, allegedly defrauded his fellow kinsmen by providing them with counterfeit certificates of sponsorship.
The documents were purportedly issued in the names of reputable UK-based care providers.
Marriages of convenience
Apart from being defrauded, those willing to travel to the UK are also reportedly entering into fake marriages to expedite the processing of spousal visas to enable them to travel.
Once they enter the UK, the “couple” will then conveniently “divorce”.
Source: Sunday Mail