Working abroad illegally a dead-end

October 11, 2023 | 04:20 pm PT
Tran Long Journalist
In 2012, while studying in the U.K., I got to know a few Vietnamese who owned nail salons. They joked that if Vietnamese students attempted to stay illegally in the U.K., they could easily save VND1 billion ($41,000).

What they referred to was the amount of money many Vietnamese people willingly pay to smuggle themselves into the U.K., or other European countries. I came across this human trafficking money again in 2019, when 39 bodies were found in a container in Essex, the U.K. Most of them were people from Nghe An and Ha Tinh Provinces in central Vietnam.

Pham Van Thin from Nghen, Can Loc District, Ha Tinh, father of one of the deceased, said that the family paid over GBP30,000 (approximately $41,000) to send their daughter to the U.K.. The deceased girl received a visa to enter China before traveling to Eastern Europe, where she stayed for months. She suffocated and lost her life in a container, ending an insurmountably costly journey.

The 2019 incident did not stop human trafficking in Europe. Recently, on September 27, the French police busted a human trafficking ring and "rescued" six individuals, four of whom were Vietnamese, from another container. One of the trafficked individuals, upon discovering that they would not be sent to their desired destinations in the U.K., informed the police.

But, if not illegally, how can Vietnamese workers find better opportunities abroad? The U.K. and many European countries do not provide visas for Vietnamese common workers. If the workers come to Germany in traineeship programs, both the language and expertise requirements are very high. If workers participate in traineeships in Portugal, Cyprus, or Turkey, which usually last two to three years, they need to pay significant amounts of money to the middlemen that often offset any potential income the workers may earn abroad.

One of my friends who is working illegally in Cyprus said that when he registered in 2017, he was informed that the cost was only $3,000. He ended up in the end losing about $6,000 on other purposefully hidden costs in the end. He later arrived in Cyprus, working in the agriculture sector for $500 a month, not including living expenses. After three years, he saved up $10,000. Compared to the initial costs, it was not exactly a very profitable investment.

The GBP30,000 that Pham Van Thin paid for his daughter in 2019 has been the "standard" price to smuggle a person into the U.K. for the past 10 years. If done successfully, the smuggled individual works in nail salons or cannabis-growing facilities.

While nail salon work can help illegal individuals make money slowly and steadily, cannabis growing, if not detected, can make big money but runs very high risks of imprisonment. An individual can make dozens of billions in one deal. Besides many people dying during the journey, and many get imprisoned, there were plenty of individuals who changed their destinies via cannabis. The stories of these people motivate the next wave of illegal workers joining the human trafficking ring for a chance in the West.

In the past, the U.K. had a more relaxed and simple refugee policy, making it one of the most popular destinations for illegal workers. In the last two years, there were over 73,000 people illegally attempted to reach the U.K. via boats, 1,800 of which were Vietnamese, according to the British Ambassador to Vietnam.

Recently, the British government passed a new law, saying that illegal immigrants will be temporarily detained and eventually sent to a third country or the country of origin, hoping that the policy would prevent human trafficking into the U.K.

In my study time in the U.K., I witnessed many individuals spending their whole lives within the four walls of illegal cannabis farms. They made money, but to send back home, and they could not really spend any of it. They lost everything else in life.

The pressure to make ends meet, while understandable in its own way, needs to be addressed with knowledge, and real technical and language skills, rather than a gamble on individual lives.

Not only the illegal workers would suffer from their actions, but the whole community, including other Vietnamese attempting to reach their foreign dreams legally. Society as a whole should actively find ways to prevent people from ever attempting to risk their lives for such uncertain and illegal lives in a far-away land.

*Tran Long is a Vietnamese journalist.

The opinions expressed here are personal and do not necessarily match VnExpress's viewpoints. Send your opinions here.
go to top