Want more foreign talents? Then streamline your labor policies

By Nguyen Khac Giang   November 20, 2018 | 08:56 am GMT+7

Putting expats on an equal footing with native workers could be the solution to Vietnam’s “brain drain” crisis.

Nguyen Khac Giang, a researcher at the Vietnam Institute for Economic and Policy Research

Nguyen Khac Giang, a researcher at the Vietnam Institute for Economic and Policy Research

Several years ago I used to work for an English language publisher. Naturally, that meant we needed native editors who had both excellent editing and language skills.

To find someone like that in Vietnam was difficult to start with. But it was even more difficult to get them on board considering the paperwork required to bring them into our labor system was copious. So we decided to "fly under the radar" either through signing temporary contracts with editors for under three months or getting them without a contract at all.

This happens all the time at small and medium businesses, especially in the education sector. It’s not uncommon to find an English-teaching center employing foreign teachers without official contracts, and the trend has been on the rise in the last few years.

Vietnam’s work policies for expats may have been simplified since 2016, but it is still nowhere near enough. Many expats still fail to get their work permits in time or do not get them at all. They resort to "visa runs" to extend their visa by traveling to a different country and then reentering Vietnam.

I agree it might be difficult for foreign workers to enjoy labor policies that are as simple as they are for Vietnamese. But if we want to attract more foreign talent, smooth, transparent policies are a must.

The matter is more urgent now than ever as skilled Vietnamese workers are leaving the country in droves to seek new opportunities outside Vietnam, especially in Southeast Asia, since the creation of the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015 allows workers within the bloc to freely move from one country to another, much like how the EU works.

Vietnam’s "brain drain" crisis could be further exacerbated now that countries like Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines are joining the fray to attract global talent.

Group of students learn to speak English with English native foreigners at the Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi. Photo by Shutterstock/Vietnam Stock Images

Group of students learn to speak English with English native foreigners at the Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi. Photo by Shutterstock/Vietnam Stock Images

Last week Saigon announced that it wanted "foreign experts" in its workforce in a draft of its Talent Attraction Policy from 2018 to 2022. This is an unprecedented move from Vietnam, signaling a new shift in perspective among policymakers and possibly introducing a new labor segment in the country.

But the end game is still not in sight, considering how other countries are already several steps ahead of us. Even immigration-shy Japan is now loosening up its policies for foreign workers to shore up its dwindling workforce.

Looking at the big picture, one of the main reasons why Vietnam is so reluctant to welcome foreign workers is its general avoidance of anything that has to do with countries outside Vietnam. If you pay attention, you could see that it takes much, much longer for event organizers to be done with legal procedures required to hold events if they have a "foreign factor" involved.

While it is true that there are still foreign nationals who work illegally in Vietnam, the problem could be solved by merit- or skill-based classification of workers’ groups like many other countries have done.

As the idiom says, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. If Vietnam wants to attract more foreign talent, it has to develop a work environment that allows one to grow professionally along with more transparent labor policies.

*Nguyen Khac Giang is a researcher at the Vietnam Institute for Economic and Policy Research. The opinions expressed are his own.

 
 
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