Vietnam's migrant workers denied basic services by red tape

By An Hong   June 16, 2016 | 05:37 pm GMT+7

Vietnamese rural migrant workers should be allowed to settle permanently in cities and enjoy the same public facilities and services as those with urban household registrations or 'ho khau' do.

The main reason for the government’s reluctance to push forward with the reform of the 'ho khau' system is that policymakers are worried about the burden that new migrants will place on social services funded by the cities, according to joint research carried out by the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences and the World Bank.

Researchers said the Vietnamese government should make it quicker and easier for those who want to change their place of residence to their new urban homes.

The government should also give migrants the same access to job opportunities in the public sector and simplify public services such as registration of motorcycles.

The report, drawing on data from the 2015 Household Registration Survey and qualitative research, says at least 5.6 million migrants in the five surveyed provinces were not registered in their new homes, including 36 percent of the population in Ho Chi Minh City and 18 percent in Hanoi.

About 70 percent of them work in the private sector, especially in manufacturing and for foreign firms, which is twice as many as people with permanent residency.

Their average income is now slightly higher than that of permanent registrants.

However, many of them are not allowed to access healthcare or even education for their children in the cities where they live and work.

Some policymakers have raised concerns that relaxing the system could result in increased migration to urban centers, straining public services and municipal finances. Photo by VnExpress Photo Contest/Trieu Quang

Some policymakers have raised concerns that relaxing the system could result in increased migration to urban centers, straining public services and municipal finances. Photo by VnExpress Photo Contest/Trieu Quang

“This study shows that the 'ho khau' system has created inequality of opportunity for Vietnamese citizens,” said Achim Fock, the World Bank’s acting country director for Vietnam.

“Further reforms could ensure that migrants have the same access to schools, health care and employment in the public sector as everyone else. That will encourage people to move to cities and support Vietnam’s economic growth and structural transformation,” he added.“This study shows that the 'ho khau' system has created inequality of opportunity for Vietnamese citizens,” said Achim Fock, the World Bank’s acting country director for Vietnam.

The 'ho khau' system began 50 years ago mainly to control migration to the cities as well as to ensure public security.

The Vietnamese public has mixed views about the household registration system.

Some think it is necessary to assure public safety and limit migration. At the same time, a large majority says the system should be relaxed, because it limits the rights of people without permanent status and that it induces corruption.

“The 'ho khau' registration system is no longer relevant for managing and controlling Vietnamese society, which has been undergoing drastic changes toward 'doi moi' (renovation) and international integration,” said Dang Nguyen Anh, vice president of the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences.

“The system should be replaced by a more scientific and modern approach to make people's lives easier and inclusive,” he added.

The Vietnamese government has taken the initial steps towards an alternative system that could ultimately replace 'ho khau'.

The authorities are developing a national population database which will hold basic information on each individual including gender, ethnicity and marital status.

Each citizen will have an identification card with an identification number linked to the database.

The new system could help reduce the administrative burden and financial costs of household registration on both the government and citizens.