Expats fret as Vietnam tightens visa policies

By Viet Anh   June 16, 2021 | 06:00 pm PT
Many foreigners are stressed over the uncertainty of their present and future in Vietnam, especially during pandemic times, if visa policies are tightened.

Over the past month, Olivia Taylor (name changed), an Australian residing in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), has been living in "a state of nervousness."

She's been informed that authorities were going to stop renewing both tourist visa and business visa extensions.

Taylor, who has a tourist visa, has been waiting for Vietnam's borders, closed over Covid-19, to open up for everyone. She has been in Vietnam for nearly two years and works as an English teacher. She is not planning to return to Australia because it will be expensive for her to stay in quarantine there (more than $2,300). Furthermore, she loves being in Vietnam, where she has felt safe during the pandemic, and wishes "to be part of" the life here.

So she asked her school where she teaches to apply for a work permit which would cost her around $1,000. Taylor has 10 days left, "but I still don't know if my application will be accepted or not. I hope that everything will work out for me."

Foreigners are at beach in Mui Ne, Binh Thuan Province, March 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Viet Quoc.

Foreigners are at beach in Mui Ne, Binh Thuan Province, March 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Viet Quoc.

In a worse situation, Robert Miller (name changed), an American, said he'd just lost his second job as an English teacher when his employer, an English teaching center in Bac Giang, closed as the northern province became the country's new Covid-19 epicenter.

Miller had already given up his main job in the IT sector.

Without any income, unable to afford paying rent in Hanoi, he moved to Da Lat in the Central Highlands to live with his friends.

Describing his predicament as an "impossible situation" in terms of getting a work permit, Miller said he had just days left on his visa. He was advised to pay for a Temporary Residence Card (TRC) but agents have increased the price. It used to be around $1,600 and now they require much more.

Miller, like Taylor, loves being in Vietnam and wishes to find a job to settle down here. But the pandemic has made getting a new job extremely difficult.

Miller does not want to return to the U.S. as "the vaccine doesn’t solve the issues of mutant strains.

"I don't know what to do right now."

Miller and Taylor are one of the few people who agreed to share their plight. Meanwhile, many expats in different groups on social media have expressed their worries about Vietnam's so-called new visa policy. Most of those posting their concerns were very busy finding a way to extend their visa.

Undue haste

Miller felt the authorities had "hurried" in issuing the new regulation on visas. He suggested that foreigners should be given more time, around a few months, instead of a few weeks to prepare to change.

Vietnam can try to create a better system to root out illegal workers while allowing people on legal visas to extend their stay during the Covid-19 crisis, he said.

Concurring with Miller on the advisability of "longer preparation", Taylor said she would like the Vietnamese government to give people who want to submit new visa applications around three months time. With that, they could find a way to save money for their tickets to return to their home countries, or explore job opportunities in other countries. Then there would be more people with legal work permits and visas in Vietnam.

Taylor said that many of her friends had lost their jobs because of social distancing regulations in various provinces. They were having to use their savings, which would otherwise be spent on plane tickets or visa extension, to buy food and pay rent. In other words, they can't afford to leave or start again with other plans because they are financially constrained without enough work.

"It has been a very hard time, it's like running around in circles. People feel very stuck."

Taylor hoped that in the next six months, Vietnam eases regulations thanks to vaccines, so that foreigners can have enough money and leave safely.

Alternative destinations

At present, many foreigners were discussing the chance of going to Mexico as they could not extend their visas in Vietnam, Taylor said. Mexico had a similar cost of living in Vietnam and people could become part of the society there too, she added.

People were also considering other places like Croatia and Portugal that offer special visas for those who can prove that they make online incomes. It's called a visa for digital nomads, she said.

"However, I don't know if making a big change like that (going to other countries) would be a very wise decision."

As a person who has been stuck in Vietnam due to Covid-19, William Wilson (name changed), also felt that the new regulation on visas was issued in haste.

Wilson, who did not want to reveal his nationality, said that the issue now is that there were not enough flights for foreigners to leave. He estimated that planes had very limited capacity for reservations, around 30 percent. Therefore, if people can book a ticket to go home they should be given a visa until that time, which is "not that hard.

"The solution is not that complicated, let them buy a ticket and leave," he said, adding that he has a family back home and wanted to see them.

Choosing an option to leave Vietnam at the end of May, Curtis Edmonds, a retired veteran American, said he had come in on a tourist visa as he traveled to different parts of the world. He didn't plan to stay as long as he did, but "he fell in love with the place."

Edmonds lived in Vietnam since 2018 and conducted a visa run every 90 days. Later, his agent offered him a business visa that would allow him to stay an entire year without doing visa runs.

"I said yes! I had no clue it was illegal or under a shell company, until this new wave started."

One day, his agent informed him that he should try to find a sponsor or get a job before his visa expired on June 1, 2021. After examining the situation, Edmonds knew it was his time to leave Vietnam for good. Though he had never done anything illegal in the country, "finding that I was living there illegally was a very scary situation."

He and his girlfriend and her family were heartbroken as they said goodbye. Later, he found that it would take a minimum of one year for her to be able to go to America.

But Edmonds remained upbeat. "I hope I will be back in Vietnam by 2022."

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