About 40 people belonging to a syndicate were arrested earlier this week for bringing foreign workers into Singapore illegally.
The syndicate would set up shell companies and register the foreigners under these firms. But the workers would look for illegal employment after they arrive, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in a statement yesterday.
"Enormous profits would be derived from collecting a large amount of kickbacks," said MOM.
The kickbacks were from foreign workers, who would in some cases "willingly pay a large sum of money to be part of the scam in order to obtain a genuine work pass".
On July 1 and 2, MOM conducted an islandwide operation and arrested the suspects, including the alleged mastermind who, if convicted, may be fined up to $6,000 or jailed for up to two years for each worker brought in illegally, or both.
If convicted of at least six similar offences at the same trial, the offender can be caned, too.
Number of those held this week for bringing in workers illegally - 40
Number of those arrested last year for similar offences - 19
Runners who abet the offence face similar punishment.
Last year, 19 people from three similar syndicates were arrested for setting up seven firms, and allegedly bringing in about 500 workers in total. Investigations are ongoing.
Bosses should not hire foreign workers who are seeking their own employment or from companies with which they do not have a contract, MOM said. Instead, they should take down the particulars of the foreign workers and report them immediately to the ministry.
Employers who hire foreign workers seeking illegal employment face a fine of $5,000 to $30,000 or up to 12 months' jail or both. They may also be barred from hiring foreign workers.
In response to the arrests, Ms Debbie Fordyce, executive committee member of workers' rights group Transient Workers Count Too, said: "We certainly welcome MOM's work to track and close down such operations." But she noted that agents and training centres which match workers with legal but low- paying jobs are asking for higher recruitment fees from workers and said the MOM's move against syndicates does not "adequately address" this systemic problem.