Major projects face delays as Covid-19 blocks foreign experts

By Dat Nguyen   May 28, 2020 | 11:26 pm PT
Major projects face delays as Covid-19 blocks foreign experts
A train runs on the Cat Linh-Ha Dong Metro Line in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.
With foreign experts unable to enter Vietnam over Covid-19 restrictions, major electricity and transport projects face damaging delays, industry insiders say.

The National Power Transmission Corporation (EVNNPT) says it is facing challenges in bringing in experts from China, India and Indonesia, which could lead to delays in many of its construction and maintenance plans this year.

A senior EVNNPT official who did not want to be named told local media that domestic experts were being hired for these projects as short-term solutions, but in the long run foreign experts were a must as contracts demand that they be hired to maintain and operate key equipments.

Hanoi’s first metro route, Cat Linh - Ha Dong, has seen it test run postponed from a February 1 deadline because more than 100 Chinese experts were unable to return to Vietnam after the Lunar New Year holiday due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Vietnamese conductors and staff have completed their training and the trial run was meant for the Chinese contractor to evaluate their capability to operate the metro and deal with emergencies.

The Hanoi Metropolitan Railway Management Board (MRB) has not announced a new test run date, although many of the Chinese experts have returned to work now.

As of March end, 25,000 foreign workers had not returned to Vietnam, almost a third of the 70,000 registered foreign workers in the country, according to the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs.

Among these almost 8,500 were foreign experts. They were needed for transport and electricity projects and for FDI companies like Samsung and LG, it said.

Companies have also reported their business resumption plans being delayed due to administrative roadblocks in bringing foreign experts into the country.

Nguyen Minh Ke, chairman of the Vietnam Aluminum Association (VAA), said that an aluminum producer earlier in May proposed to provincial authorities that some experts are allowed to enter Vietnam, but had to wait for 20 days as the latter wanted to wait for similar proposals from other companies before approving the proposal.

This company’s quarantine plans for the experts were rejected twice by the local health department, which said the plans did not meet standards. After a plan was finally approved, the province decided to move all experts to a quarantine camp, rendering the plans useless.

"All this happened while the business had closed most activities for months and needed experts badly to resume production," Ke said.

An official of the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council, who wished to remain anonymous, also saw similar troubles in the immigration of experts.

He said that although the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee has given its directives to the city’s labor department on Monday, it wasn’t until Thursday that the information was released to companies, who have been longing for the news.

He told local media that even though some companies are willing to organize private jets to bring the experts to the country, authorities have said that they will have to wait for another two weeks.

The Korean Chamber of Commerce has recently said in a report that the Ho Chi Minh City’s labor department has suspended the issuance of new work permits for foreign workers, creating major difficulties for production in FDI companies in the city.

Labor officials, on the other hand, said work permit was not a major issue in preventing foreign experts coming in. Nguyen Thi Quyen, deputy director of the department of employment under the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, said that experts who work for less than 90 days in the country do not need work permits.

What is making things difficult, she said, could be immigration hassles involving the Ministry of Public Security, and the verification of health status and quarantine process, concerning the Ministry of Health.

Pham Thi Ngoc Thuy, Deputy Standing Director of the Private Sector Development Committee, said that although Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has approved the entry of foreign experts to resume business operations, administrative hassles were creating difficulties for businesses.

The immigration department under the Ministry of Public Security should provide clear guidelines on what businesses need to do so as to reduce costs and time, she said.

Clear guidelines will attract more foreign investors to Vietnam amid the shifting of supply chains that is happening in the wake of the pandemic, she added.

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