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Mortgaging lives for US dream

An H2B visa for the US, a neat pay package, accommodation provided. It seemed irresistible, reports Ramesh Babu.
Hindustan Times | By Ramesh Babu, Thiruvananthapuram
UPDATED ON MAR 11, 2008 03:07 AM IST

He was promised heaven but found himself trapped in hell. Sabulal Vijayan, the fabrication technician who led the workers’ revolt in Pascagoula, Mississippi, was so dispirited when the effort failed that he tried to end his life by slitting his wrists.

He was working in Dubai when he got an irresistible offer — an H2B visa for the US, a neat pay package, accommodation provided. It seemed irresistible.

But there was one small hitch — he would have to pay Rs 6.5 lakh to the recruiting agent. Vijayan flew back home to Kerala, mortgaged his land to raise the amount and handed over the money.

As soon as Vijayan reached the US in December 2006, he realised he had been duped. The promised “accommodation” was a single, large, dingy room, which he shared with 24 others. When he protested, he was locked up in solitary confinement for days on end.

“My husband paid the money to one Sali Mon, who claimed to be an agent of Dewan Consultants in Mumbai,” said his wife Sali Sibulal. “He was promised permanent residency in due course and many other benefits. Instead, he got a 10-month work visa and was forced to work in terrible conditions.

“Vijayan called me up recently to say that he was treated in the most inhuman way when he organised other workers and questioned their ill-treatment. But he could not leave, as he had to earn enough to get back our land. Moreover, one of our sons suffers from cerebral palsy,” Sali added.

What really irked Signal International, the company he was working for, was his testimony before a congressional sub-committee investigating post-Katrina labour violation in the region. “They harassed him so much that he once tried to end his life,” said his wife.

After the story was reported by the Hindustan Times, Union minister Vayalar Ravi has called her promising help.

The story of Rajan Pazhambalakode, also a fabrication mechanic, is similar. He had been working in Russia for four years when, on holiday back home in Kerala, he saw a newspaper advertisement promising lucrative jobs for professionals like him in the US. “They put out ads in many papers,” said his brother Sandip Kumar, a resident of Kozhikode.

Rajan answered the ad and like Vijayan, was first asked to pay. “My bother paid Rs 8 lakh to the recruiting agency,” said Sandip. “He was completely duped. He had to sell off all his wife’s ornaments to raise the money. It was the worst form of human trafficking.”

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