Grasscutter Thangarasu Sankar was looking to improve his family's life when he decided to pay a company here $5,000 to help him get a job in Canada.
He was walking around Sim Lim Square with two friends in November two years ago when a woman approached him to ask if he was interested in working overseas.
She said she represented a catering firm looking for foreign workers, and that a job was guaranteed.
"I wanted to give my family a better life," said Mr Thangarasu, 35, adding that his basic pay has been about $750 since he started working here in 2007. "She promised me that I would get at least C$2,500 ($2,635) every month and I can bring my family over."
The woman told Mr Thangarasu and his friends to go to the office of Global Catering and Management in Jalan Sultan for an interview, which they did. Said Mr Thangarasu: "The company told us everything okay, guaranteed got job, but have to pay $5,000 to apply for three-year work permit. After working for two years, we can apply for Canadian citizenship and bring our family over."
Mr Thangarasu was anxious to get the process started because he was planning to start a family. His daughter turned one last year.
NO PERMIT, NO INTERVIEW
I received SMS from Shawn that my permit will be okay in 45 days and maybe the Canadian embassy will call me for interview... (later) I tried to SMS Shawn and call him, but he ignored me or sent me (vulgarities).
GRASSCUTTER THANGARASU SANKAR, on falling prey to empty promises
p>Shawn, the firm's employee who met them, also said they had to pay a deposit of $500. "I still have the receipt," said Mr Thangarasu. But it is now a reminder of a tragedy that plunged his family deeper into debt. "The company said I cannot stay in Singapore when they applied for my visa, so I went home to India in December," he said.
Back home, he took loans from the bank and his sisters to raise $4,500. He also sold his wife's jewellery, and remitted the money to Global Catering and Management. "I received SMS from Shawn that my permit will be okay in 45 days and maybe the Canadian embassy will call me for interview," he said. But the days came and went, without any word from either Shawn or the embassy.
Mr Thangarasu panicked. "I tried to SMS Shawn and call him, but he ignored me or sent me (vulgarities)," he said. He returned to Singapore last July, after paying an Indian agent $2,000 for a job here. He met Shawn in December, and the latter brought two men with him to the meeting at Woodlands Checkpoint.
"Shawn said he will cancel my work permit, and get gangsters to beat me up if I call him again. Now I'm scared, I think I will go back to India, be a farmer. But I owe so many people money," said Mr Thangarasu.