Just under two years ago I went to the Vietnamese Embassy in London to renew my five-year visa exemption certificate for Vietnam. Because my wife and children have Vietnamese passports, I am entitled to apply for this exemption (although not necessarily entitled to receive it). The process took just over a week, and the cost? Zero. I was amazed.
Vietnam, it seems, welcomes people with a family connection to spend time in this country, and they make it easy, too. It’s clever. Any relative of a Vietnamese national or anyone living overseas with Vietnamese ancestry will spend money when they travel to Vietnam, which is an import. They will also likely send remittances to family and friends living in Vietnam; another import.
Compare this stance to the growing anti-immigration trend around the world and it’s good to see that Vietnam bucks the trend. The equivalent five-year tourist visa for the UK for my wife costs just under £1,000 (VND31 million).
Up until just under a decade ago foreigners could get away with working in Vietnam for years on the back of having a business visa. This was a six-month, multiple-entry visa that could be renewed up to three times. As long as you were prepared to pay the fee — it was usually between US$120 and US$200 a go — it was easy.
This all changed with a succession of issues with foreigners and in particular paedophilia. The most high-profile case came with the arrest and trial of former British musician Gary Glitter in Vung Tau. Around the same time another paedophile, an Austrian national, was arrested in Ho Chi Minh City. Interpol had an international arrest warrant out for him and when he was finally caught, he was discovered teaching English at one of Saigon’s best-known language schools. He was teaching kids and teenagers.
Coupled with issues over African ‘crime syndicates’ — back in the mid-2000s there were a number of Africans living here illegally who were involved in various financial scams — and together with a policy that aimed to localise top jobs previously taken by expats, the authorities started to tighten up. Work permits became a must.
The Right to Work in Vietnam
The concept was the same as it was in countries like Japan or Singapore. If you were from overseas and wanted to live and work here, you had to offer something to this country that was in demand, something that couldn’t be fulfilled locally. You also had to be criminal-record free, be of good health, and demonstrate that you weren’t a ‘danger to society’.
The problem was that getting the work permits was a lengthy and often complicated process especially if you were American and needed a police report, which just didn’t exist. As is typical in Vietnam, many parts of the process were unclear.
For a good few years Vietnam’s expat population was in uproar. They were used to the lax visa standards of the past and felt they had the right to live in Vietnam. Now that entitlement was swept away from under their feet.
These days it’s accepted that if you want to live and work long-term in Vietnam that you have to either be a company director — meaning no work permit requirement — or that quite simply you’ve got to go through the process of applying for a work permit.
The process is still time-consuming and expensive, but compared to the procedures for applying for a green card in the US or a settlement visa in the UK, it’s simple. Even though Vietnam is coming into its own as an economic powerhouse, it still needs foreigners in the workforce. This is something this country accepts, no matter how reluctantly.
So before you start complaining about how complicated it is to get a work permit for Vietnam, spare a thought for all those souls who are trying to live and work in countries like the US and the UK. By comparison you’ve got it easy.