Too rich for the third world, too poor for the first

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Vietnam's labor exporting business has hit an impasse.

Enthusiasm for low-paying destinations like Malaysia and Taiwan is flagging, while higher salary markets do not appear to be interested in the country's unskilled workers.

In the first six months of 2010, Vietnam sent 37,068 people to work abroad. The figure amounts to just 43.6 percent of its export target for this year, according to the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs. Many labor export firms said that business is getting tougher as time goes on.

Dang Huy Hong, deputy director of Sona, an international manpower supply and trade firm in Hanoi, said he has scoured many northern and central provinces and found few people eager to work abroad.

"The situation has never been as difficult as it is now," he said.

His firm, which works in middle-income markets such as Malaysia, Taiwan and Libya, sent nearly 800 workers abroad in the first half of 2010. Last year, in the same period, the company exported 2,300, Hong said.

Hong said that despite the large foreign demand, Vietnamese laborers are no longer interested in moving abroad to what are considered "mid-level income markets." Vietnamese workers in Malaysia, Taiwan and the Middle-East earn average monthly incomes of VND4-5 million ($210- 263), while laborers in industrial parks of Vietnam make around VND2-3 million, he said.

Vietnam's per capita income is about $1,000 and the minimum government salary is VND730,000 ($38) per month.

Hoang Van Hung, deputy general director of TTLC, a tourist trade and labor export company, said the number of laborers his firm sends abroad now is equal to half of that in 2007.

Each month, only dozens of people register to work abroad in medium-level income markets, he said.

Thin supply has become a common challenge for labor exporters nationwide, as medium-level salaries become less and less appealing, said Dao Cong Hai, deputy head of the Department of Overseas Laborer Management under the Ministry of Labor, War Invalid and Social Affairs.

Thus, though Malaysia and Taiwan need tens of thousands of foreign laborers, to staff factories and construction sites, Vietnam's supply can no longer keep pace with demand. The country sent over just 2,500 workers to Malaysia and 13,000 to Taiwan in the first half of this year.

Unqualified for high-paying markets

Nguyen Xuan An, general secretary of the Vietnam Labor Export Association, said many Vietnamese laborers are not qualified enough to work in markets offering high salaries.

Hong of Sona said an engineer working in Japan, Australia or Canada may earn $1,000-2,000 per month. Low professional knowledge and poor language skills have hindered them from infiltrating these markets, he said.

"We know demand in Canada and Australia, but few workers can meet their requirements," Hong said. "For every 100 applicants, only a handful is selected."

Though Europe and the US need skilled workers, and offer high salaries, Vietnamese people are not good enough at English and often fail to meet their requirements, he said.

Vu Duc Hung, head of the labor export department for the firm Sovilaco, said his company received an order to send 15 electronic engineers to work in South Korea. However, the Koreans required their workers to hold university certificates, two-years' experience, and demonstrate mastery in a foreign language.

"Only 3 out of 6 applicants meet the requirements," he said. I'm not sure we will find enough qualified laborers to fill this order."

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