Vietnam becoming magnet for expat workers

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The booming economy needs foreigners to plug skill gaps in many areas while locals, by and large, do not resent the higher wages the expats are paid

A foreign teacher at a kindergarten in Ho Chi Minh City's District 7. Many foreigners want to live and work in Vietnam, where opportunities are plentiful.

Wishing to discover Vietnamese food and culture, Andre Bosia came to the country four years ago and found it a comfortable place to live. It was much more relaxed and generally very different from what he had imagined.

The French executive chef at the Sofitel Metropole Hanoi says: "Vietnam is a good place to live in. I can get a salary corresponding to my qualification and working hours. It is simple to integrate into the society since people are very friendly."

He now wants to settle down here, especially after marrying a Vietnamese fashion designer.

Bosia is just one of many expats who want to live and work in Vietnam, where opportunities are aplenty.

Some 74,000 foreigners were working in Vietnam last year, well up on the 56,929 in 2010, according to the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs.

They were from more than 60 countries and territories, with 58 percent coming from Asia and 28.5 percent from Europe.

Headhunters explain the jump in numbers by saying Vietnam is an emerging market that only opened up to foreign investment in the early 1990s, thus throwing up many job opportunities for foreigners now.

Given the shortage of local talent in certain technical and creative fields such as advertising and public relations, and professional training, foreigners are often hired to fill in the gaps.

Expats are also in business development and sales positions, especially in furniture and some service industries, where the clientele is mainly foreign.

"With the improvements in the legal system and investment environment, Vietnam attracts a large amount of foreign direct investment," Nguyen Thi Van Anh, managing director of recruiting firm Navigos Search, says.

"That leads to an increase in demand for senior personnel. But local staffs have not met this demand, either in quality or numbers.

"This is a great opportunity for foreign personnel."

To attract talent, many employers are willing to pay higher wages and improve the working environment, she says. When hiring senior foreign personnel, employers usually prefer people from Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and other places in Asia and people from the US and Europe who have worked in Asia.

It is not just foreign experts and businesspeople who have the opportunity to earn a lot of money working in Vietnam. Even students can earn thousands of dollars a month.

Without an interview or test, Ben from Australia, a former student at the Hanoi National University, got an English teaching job at a language school in the capital. He also does private teaching.

"Vietnamese place a great emphasis on education and learning. Hence, there are plenty of teaching and training opportunities for Westerners, especially native English speakers," he says.

Those with little teaching experience could be paid up to US$15 an hour, while those with significant technical or business experience could easily earn $20-25 an hour, Ben says.

"It is not hard to make $2,000-3,000 a month in Vietnam.

"I live a normal life with $1,500 in Australia. I am sure you can live much better with your $2,000 in Hanoi since it could be five times cheaper."

For Graham Sutcliffe, an English conductor at the Vietnam National Opera Ballet, the most attractive aspect of working here is not the income but the people who share his passion for music and art. "Although their salary is low, they still follow music. They understand me, and that's very nice for a conductor."

Sutcliffe, who has lived in Vietnam for more than two decades, says life here has been improved a lot. "When I first came here, we didn't see many cars or public transport. Everything now is much more comfortable in Vietnam. And of course, life has become a lot easier and better."

However, it is very difficult to find jobs and make money in the arts, he says. "I am not satisfied with my income here. I have a low income. In art and culture, everybody is paid very little. For example, a musician in England can earn at least $3,000 a month, but here they don't even earn $300."

Welcomed by locals

Nguyen Mai, chairman of the Vietnam Association of Foreign Invested Enterprises, says many foreign experts and businesspeople have come to Vietnam in recent years, and have helped train experts and managers in fields like insurance, auditing and banking.

Vietnamese can also learn about business and corporate management from expats working in foreign firms here, he points out.

"Thus, the contribution of foreign experts to Vietnam is very big. We should facilitate and encourage foreign talents to come to work in Vietnam, so that local people can learn from them," Mai says.

Even locals, who are often paid lower than foreign staff working in an equivalent position, welcome expats.

Phan Lam, who worked for both local and foreign media companies before becoming a freelancer, says: "I prefer to work for a foreign company than a local one. The foreign companies have a more open working environment, and you are able to work without having to watch the others.

"With expat bosses, I concentrated on my job, focusing on results and performance.

"At local companies, besides working, you have to spend too much time in maintaining good relations with your bosses and colleagues, while at foreign companies, you can cut straight to the chase."

He admits though that not all foreign bosses are perfect, mentioning his experience with a Japanese boss who required Vietnamese staff to work like the Japanese despite being paid local wages.

"It was a disaster in a small office of three people five people quit in two years."

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