Companies in Vietnam say they are having a difficult time navigating through regulations on allowing key foreign experts to enter the country amid closed borders due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
According to data from the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs, more than 25,000 experts and skilled workers from abroad had been unable to return to work in Vietnam as of the end of March due to COVID-19 related travel restrictions.
Among them, nearly 8,500 were foreign experts needed for transport and electricity projects and for key positions in foreign direct investment (FDI) companies like South Korean electronics producers Samsung and LG.
As Vietnam gradually resumes economic activities in the “new normal” after basically pushing back COVID-19, foreign investors, experts, skilled workers, business managers, and officials have been allowed to enter the country given they comply with its quarantine regulations.
The regulations, however, have proven to be major stumbling blocks for companies as there are several inadequacies in the implementation of these requirements.
According to a representative of the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council in Vietnam, many enterprises in Ho Chi Minh City have been confused by the city’s guidelines for granting entry to international experts, which were rolled out in what they described as a tardy manner.
The official said that although the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee had given the guidelines to the city’s labor department on Monday this week, it was not until Thursday that the information was made known to companies, which had been longing for the news.
|Workers work at a Samsung plant in Vietnam. Photo: T.V.N. / Tuoi Tre|
Despite some companies’ willingness to charter private flights to bring their experts to Vietnam to ensure COVID-19 safety, they are told to wait for another two weeks, the representative complained.
A company based outside of Ho Chi Minh City had to wait 20 days to have its proposal for some key experts to be allowed to enter Vietnam approved as the local authorities wanted to wait for similar proposals from other companies to review them at the same time, according to Nguyen Minh Ke, chairman of the Vietnam Aluminum Association.
The company’s quarantine plans for the experts were rejected twice by the local health department, which said the plans did not meet standards.
After a plan was finally approved, the province made a change to its policy by requiring that all experts be brought to a centralized quarantine camp, rendering the company’s internal quarantine plan redundant.
“All this happened while the business had shuttered most activities for months and needed experts badly to resume production,” Ke said.
The Korean Chamber of Commerce recently said in a report that the Ho Chi Minh City’s labor department has suspended the issuance of new work permits to foreign workers, which hinders production at FDI companies in the city.
|Specialists work at Vinh Tan 1 Thermal Power Plant in Binh Thuan Province, Vietnam. Photo: D.Trong / Tuoi Tre|
Labor officials, on the other hand, said work permit was not a major issue in preventing foreign experts coming in.
Nguyen Thi Quyen, deputy director of the employment department under the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs, said that experts who work for less than 90 days in the country do not need work permits.
What are making things difficult, she said, could be immigration hassles involving the Ministry of Public Security and the verification of health status and quarantine process, which concerns the Ministry of Health.
Although Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has approved granting entry to foreign experts to restart business operations, administrative hassles are creating difficulties for companies, said Pham Thi Ngoc Thuy, a member of the prime minister’s Advisory Council for Administrative Procedures Reform who focuses on promoting the private sector.
The immigration department under the Ministry of Public Security should provide clear guidelines on what businesses need to do to get their experts in so as to cut costs and save time, she said.
Clear guidelines will attract more foreign investors to Vietnam amid the shifting of supply chains that is happening in the wake of the pandemic, she added.