Bureaucracy, paperwork haunt everyone

December 5, 2022 | 04:32 pm PT
Dang Quynh Giang Lawyer
I feel pressure, anxiety and fear every time expats face visa issues or, worse, are forced to leave the country.

An Italian specialist in my company recently had to leave the country after his residence permit expired.

He has been in our company for seven years, and got a residence permit two years ago.

Knowing it was set to expire soon, our HR department began the process of renewing his residence and work permit two months in advance, well ahead of the usual one month.

But the paperwork took much longer than usual. My fellow worker eventually had to fly all the way back before returning to Vietnam on a 30-day travel visa to continue contributing his vital specialty to our company. He spent a few days on the plane traveling from one end of the globe to another, while our company had to spend thousands of dollars for his flight, accommodation and paperwork.

The documentation process for foreign experts to work in Vietnam involves many grueling steps and various levels of authority.

First, my company needed to file the "01" form with the local labor department to explain the need for using a foreign expert. The list then has to be approved by the People’s Committee, the highest provincial authority, before the Department of Labor can legalize the need to hire foreigners.

A week after filing the form we received a notice saying that to renew the work permit for a foreign expert who had held the position for years we need to put up a new recruitment notice at the provincial work center since the law allows the hiring of foreign workers only after exhausting all local avenues.

Different public officials then gave different versions of how to "prove" that we had completed this step. After blindly going through this maze, we finally received the nod from the almighty local official.

Nevertheless, we had to wait for two weeks.

But then when we inquired about the application, officials said the application was "awaiting approval." We patiently waited and only got the approval 32 days after the promised date.

It was just the first step in a long process. We then applied for a work permit, and once again had to wait longer than we were promised without receiving any updates during the process.

The most tiring step was undoubtedly at the immigration department: To make any progress at all, applicants need to reach there at 4 a.m. to queue.

At around 8 a.m., when the office opens, one could not even count how many applicants were waiting. The wait was so grueling, especially in summer, that it was not uncommon to see people in the line pass out.

Some companies even sent a few people just to take turns in the line.

Upon inquiring, officials explained that the situation was due to the checks being done after violations in many provinces, which drained the limited resources of public offices.

But these inspections, which were only needed due to the inherent shortcomings of government agencies, had consequences not for these offices themselves but for companies and foreign workers trying to earn an honest living.

Hiring foreign experts is definitely not on top of any company's agenda since the cost is significantly higher. Nevertheless, the lack of adequate local expertise creates a large gap in the market, forcing companies to look elsewhere.

Officials should definitely promote the employment of local staff, but not by hampering honest foreign workers.

To address the current deadlock, I suggest simultaneously using a number of approaches.

First, we should increase public offices' accountability to citizens and companies alike so that once they make a commitment they should deliver it enabling people and corporates to schedule their business rather than hopelessly wait for officials to go through their files as they have to do now.

All procedures should have a fixed amount of time, which should be respected. Officials need to be held accountable for any delay.

Second, we should manage and utilize the existing database on corporates. Companies that have a history of abiding by laws and regulations should not be subjected to reexamination every time they submit an application.

Otherwise, if there are problems with their applications, companies need to be informed of potential delay.

Third, we should change how government offices accept applications. Currently they still operate on a first come, first served basis, which forces companies to queue up to apply. This takes a lot of time and effort for their staff, who need to line up for hours every time. Instead, we should try to make reservations for public services online. Companies would then know exactly when and where they should go instead of the current practice of hundreds of people lining up every day at public offices.

While public offices should be strict in avoiding wrongdoing, they should also promote the good work of honest workers and corporates.

If we can address this problem, there is no doubt international workers and companies alike will find Vietnam a much more attractive destination.

*Dang Quynh Giang is a lawyer.

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