Chinese workers at a construction site in the northern province of Ninh Binh. Photo by Cuong Trung
At first glance it would seem that the government’s decree on foreign workers is a reasonable step toward protecting employment opportunities for Vietnamese workers.
This is a vital task as the population continues its rapid expansion. When I established my residence in Vietnam in 2004, the population was reported as 80-odd million. The most recent figure I’ve seen puts it at around 90 million. That’s a lot of new jobs that the economy must create.
In that same period the international reports on the status of Vietnam as being among the so called “Asian Tigers” of economic growth have completely disappeared as annual growth has dropped. Obviously the government must produce jobs to justify the public’s confidence.
Perhaps this decree is a reasonable step as heavens knows Vietnam does not need to supply employment for the vast numbers of Chinese, whose government has the same problem in spades and is happily exporting its laborers everywhere. They are even building bridges in the US, which needs all the jobs it can get!
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However, the author of two recent Vietweek articles points out some further evidence of the apparent inability of Vietnamese lawmakers to completely exam the consequences of their actions before implementing them as has so often been described in the pages of this newspaper.
According to the article, this new law will not only contribute to the efforts to reduce foreign competition for unskilled and semi-skilled jobs, especially in the construction sector, it will also hamper efforts to attract much needed foreign direct investment at the very time that WTO-required changes in international competitiveness are coming into being.
The ability of bureaucrats to succeed primarily at protecting and expanding their own turf while simultaneously ignoring their primary duty to enhance the lives of the citizens for whom they ostensibly work is a world-wide problem but the Vietnamese branch of the brotherhood seems to have advanced their skills to an extraordinary level.
In his article, the author points out that instead of simplifying the employment process this will make it more difficult and thereby discourage companies from establishing operations here if bringing skilled employees with them is difficult.
A warning flag is immediately raised when we see that responsibility will be handed over to local level agencies and party officials rather than being centralized and simplified. Each local jurisdiction will now have the opportunity to create problems for employing “key workers” by foreign firms and there is evidently no uniformity in the process. The opportunity for local corruption is clear and dangerous to the economy.
The increased paper work reminds me of a news report many years before computerization when the US Air Force announced a reduction in the collection and storage of unneeded documents.
A directive went out detailing the kinds of documents that were to be destroyed. Upon checking the progress of this new policy some months later it was discovered that the amount of material had grown rather than declined.
The explanation was that the worried low-level clerks who were to destroy the useless papers were making duplicate copies before hand so as to not be in trouble if something turned out to be needed.
It would seem that the same creative thinking is alive and thriving in Vietnam.
By Richard McKenzie *
*The writer is an American expat who lives in Nha Trang
Re: Collateral damage feared as government cracks down on illegal foreign workers (Vietweek, Issue 86, September 13-19, 2013); and Vietnam’s new rules on foreign workers likely to make things messy for employers (Vietweek, Issue 87, September 20-26, 2013)
There is nothing wrong with controlling visas and work permits for foreigners due to reasons such as tax collection (too many tourists have been working without paperwork and hence not paying any tax) or safeguarding people/children (we don't want any more Gary Glitters working as teachers, etc.). But the government needs to differentiate between “common workers” (Chinese miners/builders - this is their biggest fear) and “highly skilled workers” (qualified teachers, lawyers, managers, etc.). An international school, for example, must be allowed to employ qualified expatriate teachers - those graduated from Vietnamese universities are not trained to work with such curricula/programs, not to mention their poor English language skills.
I don’t know anything about the construction industry but here in Nha Trang there are dozens of Russians working in bars, restaurants and the tourist industry very openly. This certainly should be looked at as it is... unfair to the local Vietnamese who could be doing those jobs.
Vietnam is one of the only countries in the world that does not encourage retirees to come and live here. With all the financial benefits they bring, a long-term retirement visa for senior citizens would be beneficial to the country. It would be far better for officials to create a new visa and do something positive rather than introduce more laws that will be ignored by most.
Agreed: the requirements for a work permit by the Department of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs are impossible!
You are going to lose quality English teachers! This is an incredibly stupid and short-sighted move, especially when more than two-thirds of Vietnamese teachers of English cannot pass the government's test for English language skills!!
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The story can be found in the September 27th issue of our print edition Vietweek