Gabrial Ziki was chairman of the National Aircraft Engineers’ Association in his homeland of Zimbabwe.
But he fled to the UK in 2003 after his life was threatened when he grounded the national airline by taking his men out on strike.
Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court heard yesterday that the 40-year-old’s application for asylum was refused.
He then lived in this country without claiming benefits, mainly through the goodwill of friends.
But Ziki became desperate and, on November 2, applied for work at an agency in Shelton. His documents were checked and he was arrested on November 10.
The defendant, of no fixed address, made no comment in his police interview.
But he pleaded guilty to having a false Zimbabwean passport, which he knew or believed to be false, with the intention of establishing facts about himself.
Jason Holt, defending, said Ziki lived in a vehicle outside a women’s hostel in Shelton where his wife lives.
He added: "She received £35 per week and they buy food from that. Desperate times call for desperate measures. He has been put in a situation and had very little choice but to do what he has done."
Mr Holt asked Judge Paul Glenn to consider passing a suspended sentence with unpaid work.
The judge agreed and sentenced Ziki to six months in prison, suspended for 18 months, with 180 hours’ unpaid work.