Remittances from overseas Vietnamese, often known as Viet kieu, have been a staple of the local economy over the past few decades.
But experts now say the country could have attracted much more financial help from abroad if its policies were more open and transparent.
Nguyen Tri Hien, a financial expert from the US, said contribution of overseas Vietnamese to the country’s economy, and particular to science and technology, has been quite small.
Last year remittances hit the record high of US$12 billion, but that amount was still insignificant, given that more than 4.5 million Viet kieu are living around the world, he said.
Hien said the combined income of Viet kieu could be equal to half of Vietnam's gross domestic product, based on his assumption that an overseas family earns an average of $50,000 per year, excluding unofficial sources of income.
“This has showed that Viet kieu’s resources are very huge,” he said.
To attract more from these resources, the government needs to introduce “stronger” policies and incentives, Hien said.
He also suggested establishing centers of scientific research and businesses to draw from the overseas talent pool and bring in advanced technologies from over countries.
Phan Thanh, a businessman from Canada, said Vietnam has yet to fully tap on the potentially large resources, including both capital and expertise, of Viet kieu mainly because its administrative system is still cumbersome.
Bui Kien Thanh, an economist from the US, agreed.
He said overseas remittances could have been much higher if Vietnam’s policies had been more transparent.
Having worked as a consultant to many foreign investors and to Vietnamese policy makers, Thanh said most of his private clients complained about the “problematic” administrative system of Vietnam.
“Everyone said that local officials’ harassment is just too much,” he said.
“They [Viet kieu] also need freedom in doing business, not just some incentives," -- Tran Dinh Thien, chief of the Vietnam Institute of Economics
The government really needs to review its systems, given that the complaints have been voiced again and again over the past 10 to 15 years, Thanh said.
Other experts believe overseas Vietnamese are still concerned about how they will be treated when doing business in Vietnam.
Tran Dinh Thien, chief of the Vietnam Institute of Economics, said besides simplifying its administrative procedures, Vietnam’s government also needs to give equal treatment to overseas Vietnamese entrepreneurs.
“They also need freedom in doing business, not just some incentives,” he said.
“Overseas Vietnamese’s role is very special, as they help Vietnam connect to the world,” he said.
Official figures showed that over $92 billion in overseas remittances has been sent to Vietnam since 1991, the second largest capital source after foreign direct investment.
Vietnam, which was among the World Bank’s top-ten middle-income remittance receivers, was expected to get $13-14 billion in remittances this year.