Overseas Vietnamese may help solve HCMC infrastructure dilemma

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The government plans to further ease home ownership rules for overseas Vietnamese in a bid to stimulate much-needed infrastructure investment.

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam's commercial center, is attracting the most attention from overseas Vietnamese investors, according to a local government official, and the government is trying to entice even more to open their wallets.

HCMC is estimated to require about US$7.9 billion to revamp its transport system by 2010, with the need for cash possibly increasing to $22 billion by 2020.

Major projects are already under-way in and around HCMC, including billion dollar-plus public transport developments and a multimillion dollar safari park in Cu Chi District.

The city's infrastructure desperately needs more investment, particularly for building and renovating medical, education, culture, sports and commercial facilities.

Overseas Vietnamese investors last year committed $89 million to 29 projects, including 15 in HCMC, according to the Ministry of Planning and Investment.

Since 1986, overseas Vietnamese investors have poured about $760 million into 155 projects, the ministry said in a report.

Truong Trong Nghia, director of the HCMC Investment and Trade Promotion Center, said overseas Vietnamese investors could help draw other foreign businesses and international corporations to Vietnam.

Nghia said overseas Vietnamese with small businesses in their home countries should consider starting similar small-scale operations in Vietnam.

He said investing in Vietnam did not have to be capital intensive.

High-tech and electronic industries could suit overseas Vietnamese business people with related experience abroad, he said.

Phung Kim Vy, an overseas Vietnamese investor in real estate, said more expatriates were returning to their homeland to invest.

However, many still held concerns about their legal rights.

Overseas Vietnamese are now allowed to buy property in Vietnam but so far few have become home-owners.

Vy said about 200 overseas Vietnamese in HCMC were waiting for approval to buy houses or apartments.

The government allows expatriates to purchase a house if they meet certain criteria.

Under the rules, over-seas Vietnamese must have lived for a long time in Vietnam and mustprove a long-term contribution to the country or to investing.

Nguyen Thi Tho, deputy chair-woman of the HCMC Overseas Vietnamese Committee, said about 100 overseas Vietnamese had so far been authorized to buy homes.

About 200,000 overseas Vietnamese are currently living in the country.

Tho said many overseas Vietnamese had lost their Vietnamese citizenship and had run into difficulties obtaining the correct paperwork from local authorities.

Several ministries were working together to ease the home ownership rules to allow overseas Vietnamese to own more than one house, she said.

The government hopes the planned new guidelines will encourage more overseas Vietnamese to invest in Vietnam.

Do Thi Loan, general secretary of the HCMC Real Estate Association, said demand for apartments and offices for rent had been skyrocketing.

Ni Da Du, an American-Vietnamese who is the general director of Blogic Company, said she was planning to invest in new office and commercial skyscrapers in the southern parts of HCMC and Cu Chi District.

If real estate prices continued their upward spiral, Du predicted the economy would suffer.

"I think the government should be thinking about requiring investors to designate part of a project's land to be sold at lower prices than normal," Du said.

"That way more people could afford housing."

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