Many foreigners in Vietnam worried about the new, stricter laws governing work permits and visas don’t realize it’s not about them—it’s about the Chinese. That said, the fact that only some will end up collateral damage in what analysts see as a push against migrant workers isn’t likely to be very much comfort.
Decree 47 came into effect on July 1, and the reworked law gives the authorities here the power to deport foreigners who have been living in Vietnam for over three months without a valid work permit. Previously, the law only had provisions for granting permits. But applicants must now, among other things, demonstrate they are qualified to hold positions that locals cannot. This obviously excludes migrant labourers.
Many foreigners living in Vietnam don’t have work permits—the paperwork is complicated, original copies of degree certificates must be notarised in the applicant’s home country and again in Vietnam, and those who have been living in one location in Vietnam for longer than six months can have a police check carried out by local police. In addition, many Vietnamese employers simply aren’t willing to go to the considerable effort needed to issue foreign staff with permits, despite fines having increased ten-fold to 15 to 20 million VND.
And previously no permit was no problem. Vietnam has often been lax in enforcing its rules, a point underscored by an article in a local newspaper last year that quoted Minister for Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan as saying, ‘The rules are quite strict, but we don’t implement them.’ (MoLISA is the government body overseeing the issue).
Previously, many expats have gotten by on the B3, a six-month multiple entry visa easily renewed by any travel agency. But last year, the visa laws were changed without warning, making only three-month extensions available within Vietnam (and they’ve also become significantly more expensive, with some people paying more than US$200 for extensions).
‘The government didn’t inform us why the law changed,’ says Trinh Tien Trung, a former travel executive. ‘Now you have to get out of the country then come back and get a visa on arrival.’ Currently, some travel agencies in other countries and embassies can grant six month visas, but the situation changes regularly.
Newspapers haven’t been unsympathetic to the problems some expats are facing. Thanh Nien News, based in Ho Chi Minh City, noted that thanks to the confusing mass of red tape, ‘Vietnam will lose good people.’
American Jay Ellis runs one of Hanoi’s longest-running bars, the R and R Tavern. Ellis has been in Vietnam since 1993, two years before the US embargo was lifted, and says that in his experience, attitudes to most foreigners have always been positive.