Labour Export – A Life-Changing Dream for Vietnamese Workers

This op-ed is part of AASYP’s Digital Dialogues 2022, which is a programme that aims to provide a platform and forum for future leaders from across the region to contribute to the policymaking and diplomacy sphere by engaging in issues relating to innovation and investment, digital economy, and regional mobility.

Labour export has long been considered as an opportunity for workers to achieve their dreams. After a two-year suspension due to the border closure caused by the  Covid-19 pandemic, the market for labour exports has been active again with over 100,000 Vietnamese workers exported abroad in just the first nine months of 2022, doubled than that of the year before. This number consists of not only high-level and skilled workers but also low-skilled and manual ones. In the scope of this op-ed, the latter will be focused as the main subject in Vietnam’s context as a sending country. They bring their biggest motivations and ambitions abroad, however, low skills, knowledge, language differences and others are real barriers for them. So, is this a good choice?

Labour export – a life-changing opportunity 

According to Decree no.38/2022/ND-CP implemented starting in July 2022, the Vietnamese government increased the minimum wage for employees by an average of 6%. Specifically, the minimum wage of workers in region I increased to VND 4.680.000/month. Meanwhile, the estimated living cost per person is around VND 10.500.000/month, excluding housing rent. Obviously, with the current monthly income, it would almost be impossible for a Vietnamese low-skilled labour to cover their basic needs, not to mention that many of them are bearing the burden of raising their families (with parents and children) and even paying off debts. Henceforth, the prospects of being employed overseas pose itself as a life-changing opportunity for many Vietnamese low-skilled workers. The difference of minimum wage in high-income markets allows them to earn more, send back to support their families in Vietnam, build their houses, save up a capital to start their own business when their contracts terminate.

A dream or a nightmare?

However, that is not the whole story. The income in those developed markets is higher than in Vietnam, and so is the cost of living. To send as much money back home as possible, most workers have to be thrifty and live in poor conditions, as well as give up their entertainment and travelling needs. In the long run, it unveils potential risks for a plateaued quality of life. 

Moreover, most Vietnamese workers are not well trained and are only delegated to do basic simple tasks that require low skills and capabilities.  Their skills do not improve throughout the years, causing difficulties for them in finding jobs and competing with other young domestic labourers in the field upon their return. Even though some agencies guarantee that Vietnamese employees would be trained in skills that might be useful and beneficial to them, this may not always be the case. 

Upon contract expiration, many of them even refuse to return home and stay illegally to obtain a  higher income, leaving them unprotected and unidentified by the government. In the past,  this has caused a backlash in major labour markets. For example, Taiwan stopped receiving Vietnamese workers between 2005 and 2015; South Korea did not accept Vietnamese workers in most sectors from 2013 to 2016.

Worse, some cases are subject to high brokerage cost, fraud, contract violations or labour exploitation, which led to the economic burden and mental breakdown for the workers themselves and their families..

Government policies on labour export

Vietnam started to send domestic workers abroad in the 1980s. Since then, Vietnam has continuously completed its legal framework, creating favourable conditions for labour export. Some key regulations can be named such as the Decree no.07/CP in 1995, The Law on Vietnamese employees working abroad under contracts passed in 2006 and amended in 2020, along with many clarifying and guiding decrees relating to the law. As a result, the activity has expanded rapidly in both quality and quantity; from the first four main receiving countries in 1980-1990 to 40 receiving territories since 2007. Until now, averagely over 100.000 workers have been sent overseas annually, most of whom come from Hai Duong, Thanh Hoa, Nghe An – the “labour export” villages. 

Today, Vietnamese labourers work in more than 30 industries and send back approximately 3-4 billion US dollars each year in remittances. “The number of workers accounts for 7-9% of Vietnam’s workforce. This helps ease the pressure on creating jobs domestically”, says Nguyen Gia Liem, deputy head of the Department of Overseas Labor. 2020 and 2021 were hard years for labour export due to strict Covid-19 regulations on foreign labour migration. Many key markets such as Europe, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, etc. stopped receiving overseas workers. Last year, Vietnam sent a total of 45.000 employees abroad, only reach 50% of the year’s plan

This article was written by Anh Nguyen, edited by the Diplomacy Team, and reviewed by the AASYP Publications Team.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this op-ed are solely those of the writer and in no way represent nor reflect the position of AASYP and members of the AASYP Publications Team. The AASYP Horizons Blog provides a platform for the free expression of opinions and intellectual discourse.

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