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Vietnam – Government cracks down on foreign workers

19 September 2013

The government has further tightened the rules on foreign workers and people employing them by making it mandatory to get annual approval from local authorities. The decree, expected to take effect on 1 November 2013, which supersedes an earlier decree, will continue to make it mandatory for employers to prove that they require foreign workers and that Vietnamese cannot supply them.

The decree also removes a provision allowing foreign manual labourers to work in Vietnam for less than three months without a work permit. This privilege will now be extended only to those who come with expertise in complicated technical or technological issues that are beyond foreign experts based in Vietnam, according to Thanh Nien News.

Another major change reduces the validity of work permits from three to two years. Also, for the first time foreign workers found without work permits will be deported within 15 days.

Analysts say the amended decree could help authorities temporarily deal with the on-going problem of unskilled foreign workers usurping locals’ jobs.

Nguyen Van Hau, a Ho Chi Minh City-based lawyer who runs a law firm, toldVietweek: “It is undeniable that unlicensed and unskilled foreign workers, particularly Chinese, have stolen jobs, stayed on illegally, and harassed locals.”

There are thousands of illegal foreign workers on construction sites across Vietnam, according to a government report this week to the National Assembly, Vietnam’s legislature.

In July 2009, the Ministry of Public Security announced that there were 35,000 Chinese workers were in Vietnam, a far higher figure than expected. It did not, however, say how many of them were illegals.

This week’s report did not dwell on the nationalities of the “foreign workers” but stressed that many of the construction projects belonged to Chinese contractors. Chinese state-owned construction companies are winning bids all over the world to build power plants, factories, railroads, highways, subway lines, and stadiums. Vietnam, an immediate neighbour, has been no exception.

Zachary Abuza, a Washington-based Southeast Asia analyst, said: “Chinese workers are now ubiquitous around the world. Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) and government overseas development assistance is often channelled through Chinese corporations that bring in their own workers.”

An increasing number of African nationals have also been caught overstaying their 15-day visa to find jobs in Vietnam or even committing crimes like robberies and drug trading, the government report said.

Lawyer Mr Hua said: “The decree has thus been amended in the right direction to tackle these problems and appease the public.”

The new rules will also bring with them more formalities for parties to complete to obtain a work permit and in the long run could inflict collateral damage on those who are not targeted by the decree, experts warn.

Employers will now have to get approval from the chairman of provincial people’s committees to hire foreign workers in the respective localities.

They will also have to complete all of the formalities required by the labour ministry and other agencies just as before.

Le Thanh Kinh, who runs Le Nguyen law office in HCMC, told Vietweek: “Clearly, investors and businesses that are looking to hire skilled workers are facing a major administrative hurdle with this requirement.”

In a strange twist, one of the provisions in the decree enlarges the category of foreign workers exempt from obtaining a work permit, but on the other requires them to apply for a certificate saying they do not have to obtain one.

Mr Kinh added: “This policy is completely against our judicial reforms and very backward.”

Those added to the category are teachers at foreign institutions sent to work in international schools in Vietnam managed by foreign agencies, volunteers, those with master’s degrees and advising, teaching, or researching at Vietnamese tertiary or vocational institutions for a maximum of one month, and foreign workers who come here under international agreements to which state agencies are a signatory.

Earlier the exemption had only applied to members or owners of limited liability companies, service promoters  and lawyers registered with the Ministry of Justice, those dispatched by foreign companies to work in their offices in Vietnam (in 11 designated sectors), heads of foreign representative offices, and project managers and individuals authorized by non-governmental organizations to work in Vietnam.

The most recent figures released by the Ministry of Labour, War Invalids and Social Affairs show a third of all foreign workers in Vietnam lack permits.

As of July 2012 there were 77,087 foreign workers, 24,455 of them without work permits. They were from more than 60 countries, 58% of them being Asians, 28.5% were Europeans, and the rest from other places.

As Vietnam continues to tighten regulations on foreign labour, fears of collateral damage appear to be well-founded.

Khalid Muhmood, co-founder and director of the British University Vietnam, told Thanh Nien News: “I don't see why the government does not limit the new procedures and paperwork to targeted sectors like construction rather than make educational organizations go through even more paperwork. Why make the education sector have to go through more bureaucracy if the target is actually the construction sector?”

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