By Corina Oliquino i FilAm Star Correspondent

Human trafficking claims by more than 200 Filipino nurses in the U.S. have been categorized as a class action suit by U.S. District Judge Nina Gershon of the Eastern District of New York, a report by the New York Law Journal said.

The September 11 decision covers any nurses recruited by the SentosaCare Agency in the Philippines since December 23, 2008.

In a report by ABS-CBN News, one of the plaintiffs, Rose Ann Paguirigan, has accused the recruitment company of threatening Filipino nurses to force them into working for less than prevailing wages at the start of their employment in New York.

In another report by the Asian Times, in 2015, Paguirigan signed a three-year contract to work for Golden Gate Rehabilitation and Health Care Center on Staten Island and was promised US$29 per hour. However, as a condition of employment, she would have to pay a US$25,000 penalty if she left the company within the first year. The penalty was supposedly to cover the company’s costs in recruiting her.

Paguirigan noted that once a Filipino nurse arrived in New York, he or she only gets paid the prevailing wage as of the submission date of his or her visa application, which usually takes up to six to eight years.

In a statement by Paguirigan’s lawyer, John Howley, the recent class certification also meant that any Filipino nurse recruited and employed by SentosaCare Services since 2008 would no longer have to file an individual or separate complaint.

“When employers pay foreign nurses less than the prevailing wage, they depress wages and opportunities for all nurses. Today’s decision is a victory for all the nurses who work so hard to take care of our loved one,” Howley noted.

Meanwhile, SentosaCare’s lawyer Elliot Hahn has denied the charges and said they will appeal the class certification.

He also denied that Paguirigan was “threatened in any way” and that the defense will “vigorously defend this case.”

In another report by GMA News, under U.S. laws, employers that recruit foreign nurses under employment-based visas are “required to pay them the prevailing wage to protect them from abuse and to ensure that foreign workers are not used to depress the wages of American workers.”

“The complaint alleges that the Sentosa group of nursing homes promised that it would pay more than 200 Filipino nurses the prevailing wage “as of the commencement date” of their employment in New York,” the report noted.

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