Migrant workers return to HCMC as pandemic wanes

By Hoang Ha, Diep Phan   October 18, 2021 | 11:00 pm PT
"I definitely want to return to Saigon... I can't stay in my hometown forever," said Ngo Ly, previously ecstatic about heading back to her hometown four months ago.

The 23-year-old office worker had been back in her hometown of southern Ca Mau Province avoid the Covid outbreak in Ho Chi Minh City. However, after months of being unemployed, she became frustrated. She wanted to return to the city to earn a living.

Ly is among thousands of migrants who first returned to their hometowns, then decided to again seek work in Ho Chi Minh City and other southern provinces, where the pandemic is under control and socio-economic activities resumed.

According to the General Statistics Office, almost 1.3 million migrant laborers returned to their hometowns between July and Sept. 15.

Le Minh Tan, head of the HCMC Department of Labor, War Invalids, and Social Affairs last Friday said over 143,000 individuals have returned to the city after HCMC lifted some Covid restrictions earlier this month.

Officials at provincial checkpoints also noted that the number of individuals returning to southeast provinces has increased sharply from Oct. 3, with more than 1,400 people per day. In addition, about 1,000 people from Central Highlands provinces returned to HCMC's neighboring provinces of Binh Phuoc and Binh Duong daily.

Laborers from the Central Highlands travel by motorbike past Binh Phuoc Province to get to southern industrial hubs, October 15, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Van Tram

Laborers from the Central Highlands travel by motorbike past Binh Phuoc Province to get to southern industrial hubs, Oct. 15, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Van Tram

Hong Gam, a 28-year-old from southern Long An Province, made the same decision as Ly.

Gam and her 70-year-old mother returned to Long An in July, fearful of the recent Covid wave in HCMC.

At first, she believed that returning to her hometown would make things simpler and that she could just eat simple meals to survive. But after three months of relying on the vegetables in her garden, she changed her mind.

"There aren't many employment prospects here, and the wage is very low," she said.

The garment factory she works at has resumed operation since the beginning of the month. On Oct. 8, she returned to her rented accommodation in Tan Phu District after traveling for two hours on motorbike.

As a worker in HCMC, she saves money each month to send back to her family in her hometown to care for her mother.

"I don't know how I will survive if I remain in my hometown."

People showcase travel papers at a Covid-19 checkpoint near Vinh Binh Bridge, between HCMCs Thu Duc City and Binh Duong Province, October 6, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Minh

People showcase travel papers at a Covid-19 checkpoint near Vinh Binh Bridge, between HCMC's Thu Duc City and Binh Duong Province, Oct. 6, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Minh

Aside from the need to return to work, several employees stated they wish to go back to the city to be vaccinated.

Kieu Trinh, a 24-year-old from southern An Giang Province, go back to HCMC on Oct. 10 in a VND6 million private rental vehicle. She confirmed she had intended to return to the city as soon as possible to obtain the Covid vaccination.

"Vaccination roll out in my hometown is lower than in HCMC," Trinh explained.

When she returned to Cu Chi District, the first thing she did was register vaccinations for her entire family with local officials.

"I came back to Saigon since I don't know what to do to make a living in the countryside," she explained. "Hopefully, I will be vaccinated soon so I can go back to work."

Before leaving, Trinh carefully asked for travel procedures and Covid testing requirement to return to the city. After six hours of driving, she got back and didn't face any problems when reentering the city.

"The checkpoints only checked my negative Covid test certificate and ID and asked me to make a health declaration online," she said.

Vuong Vu, 30, returned to HCMC with the same purpose as Kieu Trinh.

Four months ago, Vu closed his billiards salon and returned to the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak by motorbike. He considered the trip back to his hometown as a short vacation to "recharge" but did not expect it to last so long.

Even though his joint shutdown, he still had to pay rent, bank loan interest and other expenses. To cover those expenses, he had to pledge a piece of land in the countryside to pay for it. He considered selling the billiards salon, but the news that the city would ease Covid restriction starting Oct. 1 made him change his mind.

"Giving up now won't do anything, once the city is open, we still have a chance to rebuild my business," Vu said.

Before making the decision to return, he also asked friends and members of his billiards club who had also moved back to their hometown if they would return to the city.

"Out of about 60 people I asked, nearly 50 said they would definitely go back. I have prepared everything, so when the city allows my business to reopen, I will do so immediately."

Officials and enterprises in HCMC, Binh Duong and Dong Nai are implementing many policies to support workers returning to the city and provinces.

Nguyen Van Lam, deputy director of the HCMC Department of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, said laborers returning to their hometown have received a message inviting them to return to the city to continue working. Working conditions must meet the set of safety criteria in production, testing and vaccination.

Tran Nhu Can, vice chairman of the Labor Union of Phong Phu International JSC in Thu Duc City, said that from Oct. 1, more than 10 workers from central and southern provinces announced they had returned to the city out of 50 people stuck in the countryside.

However, because most of them have only received one dose of the vaccine, they are not eligible to return to work yet and have to wait until they have had their second jab.

Many migrant workers only see their trip back to their hometown as "temporary" since their future lies in the city and towns in HCMC, Binh Duong and others.

"In Saigon, there are more services and medical facilities," Gam said. "My life in the countryside is not as comfortable as when I live in the city."

Currently, her mother is still in Long An, but if the pandemic situation is brought under control, she would bring her up to take care of her.

"The city at night is still deserted, but during the day, it is not much different from the pre-pandemic era."

Worries about Covid resurgence in HCMC was a reason for Ly's concern when deciding to return to the city.

Her friends prevented her, saying she was foolish because "people are rushing back to their hometown."

But she thinks HCMC is still the best place for her to thrive, with many more job opportunities and higher income.

"There are people who go back to their hometown to relieve their suffering, but on the contrary, there are people like me who go back to the city to improve my quality of life," Ly shared.

"Some people I know in Saigon have had Covid but now have recovered, the rhythm of life and work there is also gradually recovering, so I will definitely return."

In Thu Duc City, Vuong Vu is cleaning and renovating the billiards salon while waiting for his 14 days of self-isolation to end. Watching the busy traffic outside, he believes it was the right decision to return to the city.

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