Portland Thai Restaurants discovers Indentured Servitude
January 31, 2003 11:25 AM   Subscribe

Weird. I lost my whole link description.

Here's the gist: Typhoon, a Portland chain of Thai restaurants, sponsored two cooks to come over from Thailand. Once here, the restaurants said they would help them get their green cards but the cooks would have to sign a contract which bound them to the restaurant for five years, prevented them from working at any other Thai restaurant in the vicinity of Portland for three years and required them to repay expenses three times over if they left the restaurant.

When the couple backed out of the agreement, the restaurant set the INS on them who ended up arresting them and held them for four days.
posted by amanda at 11:30 AM on January 31, 2003

Wow. That's fucked up. It seems that the cooks really got screwed, since they not only lost their visas, but their jobs, and couldn't afford to fight the case. Typhoon is a great restuarant too... A shame that their labor practices might now keep me from going there.
posted by maniactown at 11:49 AM on January 31, 2003

I don't fully blame Typhoon in this case, as E2 visas sound like a horrible idea. The INS has no business being the enforcement end of a labor contract. From everything I have ever heard about the inefficiency of the INS department, it needs to be razed to the ground and started from scratch.
posted by machaus at 11:52 AM on January 31, 2003

That seems like a pretty big simplification. To get the E-visa in the first place they would have had to have been on contract with Typhoon, this contract would have been set prior to their visas and work permits were ever issued and would have had to have met US labor and employment and contract law requirements. If the restaurant then wanted to "renegotiate" the contract then they are violating those filings they made, if the contract already included the payments for expenses and was all within the fair labor standards then the cooks violated not only the contract they made with Typhoon, but also the E-visas and work permits that they were issued the moment they quit, thus they would be certainly subject to deportation. There are many open holes in this story. Was the original contract worded with "expenses" charged to the cooks? Was there the possibility of renegotiation worded into it?

Its sad what people will subject themselves to for a few bucks and even sadder how some people will exploit others, hard to tell which is going on in this story.

on preview: E2 visas sound like a horrible idea. The INS has no business being the enforcement end of a labor contract.

The E-2 is actually a good idea in theory, people with a special skill lacking in the US are permitted to come over and train Americans, in practice though the H (a temporary work sponsored visa also) and E visas sometimes get used as chances to exploit foreign workers. In these cases though it is the INS's business, but its also their business to watch out for exploitation. The whole reason we don't just open up the borders is because were afraid Americans will lose their jobs anyway.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:59 AM on January 31, 2003

The visa program is designed to spur foreign investment and create jobs for Americans. It enables investors from countries with U.S. treaties to bring highly skilled workers to America, provided the investors show the skills are essential and unavailable domestically.

Somehow, "Thai chefs" are not what comes to mind when I read this paragraph. Also, how exactly does this "create jobs for Americans"?
posted by Skot at 12:01 PM on January 31, 2003

Also, how exactly does this "create jobs for Americans"?

Part of the visa is that they have to teach Americans the skills they posses. If there are no skilled Thai chef in Portland, then Typhoon can bring in guys to teach Americans how to be Thai chefs. May not be rocket science, but its a skill and a skill that not that many folks have in the US and apparently not in Portland.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:07 PM on January 31, 2003

For most people non-compete agreements usually aren't worth the paper that they're printed on, or so my lawyer has told me. What gave these non-compete agreements bite was Typhoon's apparent ability (with a plain what envelope containing nice green pieces of paper in it perhaps?) to influence the normal operational procedures of the INS. If the received visa's that said that they were entitled to work anywhere then the INS had no business revoking them. Typhoon should have been able to bring a civil suit against the couple (and probably lost according to what my lawyer says) for breach of contract.

The visa is supposed to protect U.S. jobs while bringing in necessary foreign labour, the actions of the INS actually work against this philosophy though since it allows employers to essentially hire indentured servants. The intent is that the employer can't underpay foreign workers, thus reducing the prevailing wage for that skill because the worker can cross the street and get a new job.
posted by substrate at 12:08 PM on January 31, 2003

its a skill and a skill that not that many folks have in the US and apparently not in Portland.

Okay. But they should have come up to Seattle instead of sending out. Apparently, heroin junkies are the modern-day equivalent to mythic dragons' teeth, because for each one that croaked in the last twenty years, a Thai restaurant has sprung up from the earth in their place.
posted by Skot at 12:12 PM on January 31, 2003

Portland has a lot of Thai restaurants. Good Korean is tough to find, good Chinese is nowhere to be found on the west coast (exceptions Vancouver, BC, San Francisco, Hawaii, in my experience anyway) so I can see why Thai chefs are in such demand. We webfeet luvs it.

And the article says that Typhoon has restaurants in Seattle and Portland, so Washingtonians may wish to keep one eye open...

By the way, if you're in PDX give Thai Orchid a shot. flash and music at that link. No one makes Pad Kee Mao like them. Several locations, including 'Hillsbolo.'
posted by Tacodog at 12:15 PM on January 31, 2003

Wow--I've been to Typhoon in Portland, too. Their Miang Kum is to die for. Small world.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:18 PM on January 31, 2003

A lot of Labor Certifications are bogus anyway, a lawyer I worked with got one through for a teenager who worked at Subway, apparently "Sandwich Artist" is a rare skill.

Anyway, there were ways for these cooks to have gotten to stay, but its a little late now. The State Dept. is a whole different story when trying to get into the US (except it seems they are selling off visas in Mexico lately). Its much easier to stay once your here.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:22 PM on January 31, 2003

Good Korean is tough to find.

My understanding (word of mouth, not personal experience) is that the good Korean restaurants are in Tacoma. For what it's worth.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:23 PM on January 31, 2003

mr_roboto, thanks for the tip. I was in Federal Way (a few minutes north of Tacoma) a year ago and found a great Korean joint next to a Korean market. From what I understand, Federal Way has a huge Korean population so I'm assuming the chances of finding good cooking there are high. (I think the mayor's Korean too...)

Anyway, based on this single story, Typhoon treated this family underhandedly, if not illegally. Non-competes, I understand. 5 years? Kinda long but that's what they agreed to. Quitting before time was up? Well, pay up since that's what you agreed to (though 3x seems obscenely high, considering he's already provided product for Typhoon.) Renegotiating once you've arrived on foreign soil? If it were up to me, this would negate everything the restaurant did and the family would go thru INS negotiations again. I assume a visa with that other restaurant that wanted to hire him. Bad faith on Steve Kline's part.

But what's done is done.

Boy, whichever restaurant this cook ends up with, he'll have a GREAT marketing story. 'A 5-star Bangkok chef so good he was legally banned from the US.' Or words to that effect. Shame I've never been to Typhoon to taste his cooking and, if this story holds water, never will be.
posted by Tacodog at 12:50 PM on January 31, 2003

No WONDER my local Thai restaurant is so cheap!
posted by troutfishing at 1:29 PM on January 31, 2003

Now, about those odd looking bits of meat.....
posted by troutfishing at 1:30 PM on January 31, 2003

Well, if you read the article, one thing that Portland is most likely lacking (for the management of Typhoon) is skilled Thai chefs who will work for low wages at very long hours and they will do so to avoid owing their sponsors vast sums of money and being deported.

If this is indeed a loophole in INS policies, I would imagine that Typhoon is not the only company taking advantage of that. Though I suspect, based on the rapid response of INS to this case (which an official claims as "unusual") that there are some greasing of the palms involved.
posted by amanda at 1:55 PM on January 31, 2003

may wish to keep one eye open...

Oh, I see someone knows the saying...you sleep with one eye open..cause, I know where you live. More.
posted by thomcatspike at 1:57 PM on January 31, 2003

A local Thai restaurant owner (who is Thai married to a military guy) waited to open her second restaurant until she could import native Thai cooks.

But oh, the taste is worth it. One is walking distance from the house.

For what it's worth, in Thailand people do work very long hours, sometimes seven days a week. Ugh.
posted by konolia at 2:27 PM on January 31, 2003

Wow, this happened just down the street.

Other good Thai restaurants in Portland:
Thai Peacock, about a block southeast from Powells and down that street that runs at an angle. Locals will know what I mean.
On the East side, there's about fifty places I can reccomend along Sandy, but I can't remember the name of the one in particular that's good. Vietnamese good is easy to come by, but see if you can't glance in the kitchen first... there's some places that us roundeyes don't have the digestive tracts to handle. ;)

As far as the INS goes... the INS agents in Portland are nazis. They're singlehandedly responsible for killing the trade that our previous governor got going from Japan... as a result, Portland International, which used to have a bunch of flights coming in daily from Japan, is now only international because it has flights to Canada. I've seen them come on campus (I go to PSU) and haul students out of classes if they didn't have the i dotted and the t crossed on their most recent student visa application. It's fucking nuts. Japanese tourists stay the heck OUT of Portland now...
posted by SpecialK at 6:30 PM on January 31, 2003

What a pity their business practices are so questionable. I remember going to Typhoon once and enjoying the food very much.

I remember the Oregonian doing a big (Pulitzer winning) exposé on how the INS treats people in its custody. Excellent reportage from a usually staid establishment paper.

As for Thai food in Portland, I must highly recommend Baan-Thai on Broadway and College (right next to East Hall on the Portland State campus). They have absolutely divine food, and it's cheap if you go in for lunch specials.
posted by calistasm at 7:14 PM on January 31, 2003

say, if you want to write an email to those reprehensible pigs running the inarguably delicious Typhoon, you can find a link here.
posted by noodler at 8:50 PM on January 31, 2003

Those chefs are lucky they didn't end up working in a factory here in Korea [self-link].

The majority of southeast Asian migrant workers who end up here are locked into a form of indentured servitude, and very little is done about it. The new president-elect, Noh Moo Hyun, is a human-rights lawyer, though, and is promising reform, so there is some hope. Perhaps.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:05 PM on January 31, 2003

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