Hong Kong women using study visas for sex work overseas

Australian immigration loophole being exploited with prostitutes signing up for language schools as a way into country

Bryan Harris bryan.harris@scmp.com

Hong Kong women are signing up for language schools in Australia as a front to work in the country’s lucrative sex trade, according to advocates and sources in the industry.

The practice has been going on for several years and some schools are complicit in facilitating the work, according to sex workers’ associations and sources close to the prostitutes.

Perceived higher wages and an easier lifestyle have long lured Asian sex workers to Australia. A University of New South Wales study found that more than half of Sydney’s prostitutes were Asian.

While prostitution is legal in Australia and holders of study visas can work for up to 20 hours a week, the Hong Kong women are said to be working full time in brothels and ignoring class. Women’s advocates say they risk falling into sex slavery and debt bondage.

“In the past three weeks, I have met up with 17 new ladies who have travelled to Sydney from Hong Kong on student paperwork supplied by the school, so they can enter Sydney and commence working in brothels," said a source who helped the women settle in Australia. The women typically hailed from towns in the New Territories and can earn about HK$60,000 per week by working seven-day weeks in Sydney’s brothels, the source said.

Paperwork from the schools helped them pass immigration but was quickly discarded upon arrival, said the source, adding that the women even joked about not attending class.

According to Zi Teng, a Hong Kong-based women’s rights group, Australia has long been a popular destination for Hong Kong sex workers and the practice of using language schools as a cover was not new.

“It’s been going on for several years. Some of the schools know about it. It depends on the so-called agents," a spokeswoman for the group said.

The agents often connect the women in Hong Kong with the schools in Australia. “The agents are usually ethnic Chinese with permanent resident status in Australia," the spokeswoman said.

The brothels encouraged women to convince friends in Hong Kong to join the industry, both the spokeswoman and the source said. The spokeswoman said many women were willing to take risks for the promise of more money. “It’s like gambling," she said.

A 2013 case involving four women from Malaysia helped illuminate the use of student visas in the sex trade. The four, lured to Sydney with promises of an education, were told they owed A$5,000 (HK$30,500) each, and put to work for up to 17 hours a day in a legal brothel. Brothel-keeper Chee Mei Wong was jailed for six years for offences including visa violations.

A spokesman for Australian immigration said it was not aware of language schools being used as fronts for illegal sex work. But he pointed out that those on student visas could legally work for up to 20 hours per week while attending classes.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as HK women using study visas for sex work


(source: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1726514/hong-kong-women-using-study-visas-sex-work)