How Viet Kieu Workers Are Changing HCMC's Job Market

By: Jesus Lopez Gomez

Julie Huynh, marketing and operations manager at Ho Chi Minh City-based bespoke tailor Rita Phil, has had a few experiences that remind her she’s not in Los Angeles anymore.

Speaking to #iAMHCMC, she said one that stands out to her was working with a local photographer. Huynh has worked with photographers in the US in the past, and the interaction there usually begins with a contract and a discussion of the fee.

But “photographers here [say] ‘oh, we’ll give you a good deal,’ ” Huynh said.

“I’m still learning to finesse that.” While she speaks Vietnamese well enough, “I still have a very Western attitude. I’ve been told I’m too aggressive,” a remark she said was more about her role as a foreigner in Vietnam than being a woman. She said Viet Kieu of both genders have to tread lightly here.

Untapped potential

Huynh moved to Vietnam to join her sister at her a couture garment firm she founded, called Rita Phil. Huynh, a California-educated Vietnamese professional who was at that time working at an accountancy firm, made the leap to Vietnam in 2015.

Why? “It just seemed like the right time. I just wanted something different in my life,” she said, adding her mum and sister already lived in Vietnam.

Nguyen Phuong Mai, managing director for executive recruitment firm Navigos Search, said family is a commonly reported reason for Viet Kieus coming to Vietnam. Those who make the journey also express an interest Vietnam’s nature and a love of Vietnamese food as their big draws in coming back.

There are around five million Vietnamese overseas, according to the World Bank. In 2015, the Communist Party reported around 12,000 Viet Kieu—or “overseas Vietnamese”—had come to Ho Chi Minh City to either relocate permanently or to live as long-term residents.

Viet KieuImage source: i.imgur.com

This may only be a fraction of the potential size of this community. Recruitment firm Robert Walters conducted a survey in which 70 percent of overseas Vietnamese professionals expressed an interest in returning.

The top reasons for returning were caring for ageing parents, a perceived ability to earn a higher salary in Vietnam and a love of Vietnamese culture.

The top factors overseas Vietnamese look at in evaluating a return was a suitably high salary in comparison to local rates, a clear career path forward and flexible work arrangements.

However, Nguyen said micromanagement was one of the biggest fears the Viet Kieu have expressed to her in coming to work in Vietnam.

Their biggest fear is “empowerment”, Nguyen said. “They’re afraid of [a] micromanagement style.”

A Western-educated employee has been invited to have a critical role and look for opportunities to innovate. So, she advised companies that want to successfully recruit and retain the overseas Vietnamese to offer recruits roles with a high degree of agency and self-determination. Like the Western classroom they come from, a Viet Kieu educated abroad will expect to have their questions and criticisms heard, something that may not be welcome in a more traditional setting.

Huynh said she’s seen that with new Rita Phil employees who’ve moved in from other firms with a more culturally Vietnamese setting.

Viet KieuImage source: hbr.org

“It’s a culture where you have to save face,” she said. For example, “if you have an argument with a coworker, [traditional Vietnamese employees] don’t want to engage that at all.”

Rather than trying to make her employees more like her, Huynh described a process in which a middle ground is negotiated between her Western training and the Vietnamese staff she oversees. For example, Rita Phil’s work schedule does not permit afternoon naps as some Vietnamese staff enjoy elsewhere, but she is working with her staff to decide the right length of time for their Tet holiday vacation.

“That’s an example of us transitioning and adapting,” she said. “When the Viet Kieu [perform] under the Vietnamese culture better, we can adapt our perspective better.”

The Three Kinds

Returning Viet Kieu broadly fall into three categories.

The first is what Nikkei Asian Review in 2016 called “pilot” actors helping foreign companies expand into Vietnam, such as Henry Nguyen, the prime minister’s son-in-law and McDonald’s’ first franchise partner.

The second are entrepreneurial actors who enter Vietnam and build something new, as Duytan Tran did. In 2010, he started eSilicon Vietnam, a semiconductor producer that Nguyen said was originally started with a group of 20 engineers. The US investors who acquired it a year later acquired a successful firm that had grown to a 100-person staff, Nguyen said.

The third are highly qualified professionals who move to Vietnam and are installed in leadership positions at local firms, as Nguyen has as head of Navigos Search. Online publication Vietcetera profiled Crystal Lam, a University of Chicago-educated Vietnamese woman who is currently managing director of lumber retailer Vinawood.

Huynh’s role as one member of Rita Phil’s leadership team doesn’t excuse her from performing some of the business’s toughest work. “We’re still just a startup,” she said, adding the business has been able to expand globally—her responsibilities are specifically the US, Australia, Canada and United Kingdom markets. The company has done so on a lean staff you could count on two hands.

So, “any great idea you do have...you have to do it yourself,” Huynh said, laughing.

Video source: Vietcetera

In the Office as in the Classroom

Vietnamese living abroad to who come to Vietnam have a complicated relationship with their work environment almost immediately.

For one, corporate structures in Vietnam tend to be more top down and hierarchical, according to Nguyen.

She said Vietnamese management expects more deference from their employees and adherence on the agreed-to goals. It’s a reflection of the typical Vietnamese classroom where rote memorisation and lecture-style instruction are the mainstays of the educational philosophy. Because colouring outside the metaphorical lines or giving anything other than the back-of-the-book answer in school would earn a Vietnamese reprimand or even punishment in a school setting, the work environment that students move into after schools tends to hew very rigorously to standardards and authority, Nguyen said. Management can feel empowered—and often is, if not officially then implicitly—to tightly manage staff.

Viet KieuImage source: ibb.co

This, Nguyen said, was a key concern for Vietnamese abroad thinking of making the move to Vietnam.

Nguyen said the other big bugbear for Vietnamese who are recruited overseas is the local business culture’s tendency to mix emotions and business. It’s a conflation that a Western-educated worker steeped in a work culture with a heavy emphasis in meritocracy may bristle at.

Here, “people treasure [the] relationship,” Nguyen said. “Many Vietnamese companies here, they let the relationship or personal feelings get in” to their business dealings.

Those entering the local business scene “need to be more aware of that.”

“We Need a Viet Kieu”

By law, only if a company can’t find the necessary talent at the local level can they expand their search. Nguyen said companies said Viet Kieu are usually among the last candidates to be looked at, although she has in the past worked with clients who’ve specifically asked for a position to be filled by a Vietnamese abroad.

Viet KieuImage source: studentexchange.vn

“We’ve seen that. Companies will say ‘We need a Viet Kieu,’” Nguyen said. These are roles where the experience of a business person living abroad while also having an understanding of Vietnamese culture are needed.

“It’s better still if they can speak Vietnamese,” she said.

For companies that are recruiting a leader who will themselves recruit and build a new department within the company, a Viet Kieu is preferred, Nguyen said.

Nguyen said it can take maybe two years for local Vietnamese to see a returning Viet Kieu as one of them. Until then, they’re just another Westerner.

That’s usually the proper amount of vetting time a Viet Kieu would need to see if their life in Vietnam has legs, Nguyen said. Those who come have many reasons for living here, but after a year or two, those who have settled here either do so permanently or find a stopping point for this chapter in their lives.

Huynh spoke to #iAMHCMC having recently decided to extend her stay in Vietnam another two or three years.

Professionally, “I’m not really giving up…anything.”

“People [who want to] make the jump to come…that’s what they think,” she said. “I’m following a path I wasn’t sure I wanted,” Huynh said.

“Vietnam is obviously growing. The economy is getting better. I think it’s prime time for Vietnam.”

Banner Image source: orbitz.com


Vietnam’s Labour Laws: What You Need to Know

By: Keely Burkey

Are there any legal differences between hiring an expatriate and a Vietnamese worker?

An expatriate worker must have a work permit to work in Vietnam (although there are some exceptions). Also, if an expatriate works with a contract of longer than three months, they must have statutory health insurance. All local workers are subject to social, health and unemployment insurance.

Has the increase in foreign businesses and workers affected labour laws?

The government has made it harder for expatriates to obtain work permits and work visas. The process is generally longer than it used to be, too. Theoretically, expats are only supposed to be doing jobs that Vietnamese people wouldn’t be able to do.

What’s the biggest issue employers face when it comes to labour laws?

Most labour disputes are centered around wrongful termination. In other countries, like the United States, it’s easier to fire an employee for poor performance. In Vietnam, if an employer gets angry at an employee and fires them on the spot, that’s unlawful termination. There’s a specific set of procedures that needs to be followed. It’s always best if both parties agree to amicably part ways if possible. If you’re an employer and want to terminate a labour contract, it’s safest to discuss it first with a lawyer.

If an employee believes he or she has been wrongfully terminated, what can they do?

Generally, when a labour contract is breached by an employer, the employee may directly send his or her contract-related demand to the employer for remedy or request help from the trade union. The employee may also terminate the labour contract, make a complaint against the employer to the labour authorities or bring the dispute to a labour mediator or to the court. An employer who breaches a labour contract will be, depending on the seriousness of the situation, subject to paying compensation and reinstatement of the rights and benefits of the employee, and may face an administrative penalty.

What advice would you give to somebody starting a new company in Vietnam?

The most important thing is to have a good labour contract that clearly outlines the rights of both the employee and the employer. And how well do you really know someone when you hire them? If the business relationship doesn’t work out, the legal ramifications can be severe. It’s best to start with a probationary period and then a one-year fixed term contract before signing a permanent contract.

Just the Facts

Working Hours

– Usually 8 hours per day, 48 hours per week.

Overtime

– Should not exceed 50 percent of regular working hours per day.

– The worker is paid 150 percent of salary on normal working days,

200 percent on scheduled days off, and 300 percent on public holidays.

Minimum Wage

– Depends on the region. As of 1 January 2017, the minimum wage in HCMC is VND 3.75 million per month.

Vacation Time

– An employee in normal working conditions is entitled to at least 12 vacation days per year.

Sick Leave

– A local employee is entitled to sick leave allowance from the social insurance fund if the employee provides documentation from the healthcare provider proving just cause.

Maternity Laws

– The mother is entitled to six months of maternity leave.

– If she gives birth to more than one child at a time, she can take one additional month for each additional child.

– If a woman is in her third trimester of pregnancy, she is not permitted to work at night, work overtime or take business trips.

– A female employee can’t be subject to labour discipline while pregnant, during maternity leave or while nursing a child under 12 months old.

As with most laws and regulations, loopholes and exceptions abound. Be sure to consult a lawyer before making any legal decisions.


How to obtain a temporary resident card in Vietnam?

By: City Pass Guide

What are the cases in which a foreigner can obtain a temporary resident card in Vietnam?

- He/she is member of diplomatic missions, consular offices, representative offices of international organisations of the UN, intergovernmental organisations in Vietnam, or the spouse, child under 18 years of age, housemaid that comes along during his/her term of office. In this case, he/she will be issued with a temporary resident card NG3.

- He/she has a visa of type LV1, LV2, ĐT, NN1, NN2, DH, PV1, LĐ or TT. In these cases, he/she will be issued a temporary residence card NG3.

What do the codes of common visa types in Vietnam mean?

NG3: Issued to members of diplomatic missions, consular offices, representative offices of international organisations affiliated with the UN, representative offices of intergovernmental organisations and their spouses, children under 18 years of age, and housemaids during their term of office.

LV1: Issued to people who come to work with units affiliated with Vietnam’s Communist Party; the National Assembly, the government, Central Committee of Vietnamese Fatherland Front, the People’s Supreme Court, the People’s Supreme Procuracy, State Audit Agency, ministries, ministerial agencies, governmental agencies, the People’s Councils, the People’s Committees of provinces.

LV2: Issued to people who come to work with socio-political organisations, social organisations, Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

ĐT: Issued to foreign investors in Vietnam and foreign lawyers practising in Vietnam.

DH: Issued to people who come to study or serve internships.

V1: Issued to journalists who have permanent residency in Vietnam.

: Issued to people who come to work.

TT: Issued to foreigners who are parents, spouses or children under 18 years of age of foreigners issued with LV1, LV2, ĐT, NN1, NN2, DH, PV1, LĐ visas, or foreigners who are parents, spouses or children of Vietnamese citizens.

What are the documents needed to obtain a temporary resident card in Vietnam?

The main required documents needed for the temporary resident card are:

- A written request from the inviting entity
- A declaration bearing a picture
- The passport
- Papers proving your status (such as: Proof of residence registration with ward police where the applicant lives; Work permit (if applicable); Certificate, business registration certificate, licence of establishment of representative office, company branch (including announcement of activation), certificate of seal registration. In the case of family members, proof of relation can include a marriage certificate, birth certificate, or family book).

Note that any papers that are not in Vietnamese must be translated and notarised or legalised according to Vietnamese regulations.

Where can you apply for a temporary residence card?

According to the 2015 Immigration Law, an application for the NG3 temporary residence card must be made to the competent authority of the Ministry of Affairs while applications for other types of temporary residence card must be made at the immigration authority in the same administrative division in which the inviting entity is based or residing.

Therefore, for other temporary residence cards than NG3, your documents need to be filed with the Immigration Department. The government fee varies according to the duration of the temporary resident card, such as: one year: US$80; one to two years: US$100; two to three years: US$120.

How long does it take to obtain a temporary resident card in Vietnam?

Theoretically, the time frame for processing is between five and seven working days.

What is the address of public authority that you need to know to obtain immigration papers?

Immigration Department
Office of the Ministry of Public Security
254 Nguyễn Trãi, D1; +84 28 3920 2300

Immigration Department
Office of the HCMC Public Security
196 Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, D3; +84 28 3829 9398


10 Steps to Great Leadership

By: City Pass Guide

To paraphrase William Shakespeare’s line from Twelfth Night, some are born leaders, some achieve leadership qualities, and some have leadership thrust upon them.

One thing that great leaders all have in common however is the ability to find solutions in the time it takes others to figure out that there is a problem. This is not some kind of magic. It is purely having the knowledge that experience brings. There are though, certain traits that set leaders apart from the rest. The ability to isolate problems and the courage and confidence to act, are certainly examples. People skills of course are tremendously important.

So what are the 10 Steps to Great Leadership?

1. Leading by Example

Source: stilettosontheglassceiling.com

There can be no more demoralising thing than watching your boss do the very things that they have criticised you for in the past. It is so important to remain constant to the standards that you set others. Your workers will see that you practice what you preach and will certainly take constructive criticism more easily.

2. Empowering Staff

Source: plan-delegate-manage.com

The great advantage of being a leader is that you have others to do jobs for you that are too difficult for you to fit into your busy schedule. It is however one thing to have staff and another thing altogether letting them take the helm. As a great leader you will need the ability to trust the judgement you made when interviewing personnel in the first place.

3. Swift Decision Making

Time spent procrastinating over an issue can sometimes lead to a missed opportunity. Quite often the first solution that springs to your mind is the right one. As a leader you have to learn to trust your gut. Of course, sometimes you will make mistakes. But as experience is gained the percentage of times that you get it right will increase.

4. Remaining Accountable for Decisions

Expecting your workforce to be accountable for their actions doesn’t carry any weight unless you judge yourself by those same standards. You have to make decisions every day, and you have to stand by them. By all means allow yourself a pat on the back for a great decision, but at the same time take it on the chin when things don’t go so well.

5. Great Time Management

Source: officesuppliesblog.co.uk

This is one of the most common factors in management failures. The inability to compartmentalise one’s workload is often cited as the most common failure of business leaders. Great leaders have to learn to do this almost instinctively. Stay disorganised and your work day will seem far too short or too long. Put systems in place to manage your tasks and you will become far more productive.

6. Breaking Down the Comfort Zone

A good leader will constantly challenge their workforce to push beyond perceived limits and think outside the box. When people stop pushing, they stop growing and when that happens development comes to a stop. A good boss will keep his workers on their toes, constantly looking to improve for the betterment of themselves and the company.

7. Being Open to Offers of Help

Source: forbes.com

Nobody of course knows everything, and leaders are no exception to this. There will be times when you find yourself faced with a problem for which you can see no solution. Never be afraid to ask your staff for help. Everyone has had different life experiences and can be a useful resource when needed. Good leaders allow themselves a little humility and ask for help.

8. Correct Allocation of Talent

Really good leaders will have already recognised which particular strengths a member of the workforce has. It is then a matter of matching their skill sets to the job in hand.

9. Explaining Requirements Clearly

It is one thing you knowing what is to be done, it is another entirely getting that message across. So many people are great at what they do but not too clever when it comes to sharing that knowledge. Good leaders need to be good communicators. When you explain something to a member of your staff, make sure that you know that they know what you meant.

10. Great Leaders Are Great Teachers

Source: fierceinc.com

It is never OK to stop teaching your staff. So many times you will hear that someone is so busy they can longer spare the time to teach their staff. However teaching your staff correctly and continually will gain you time, not cost you.

For business leaders these are the things that separate them from the rest. Successful leaders do not simply arrive where they are by accident. These are the traits that make them who they are and where they are.


Photo Story: Construction Workers

By: Emilio Piriz

As urbanisation grows in the major cities across Vietnam, especially in Saigon, demand for construction workers rises too. This human force comes from many different parts of the country, and especially rural areas, where it’s becoming more and more difficult to find a decent job to earn a living. Many turn to construction to make a steady income, moving to the big city for a long period of time until a construction project is completed. It’s no wonder why these workers become a close-knit community right from the start.

They work side-by-side, eat together, relax together and even sleep in the same place. They often choose to stay at makeshift dorms built right next to the construction sites, or they build small huts themselves where they nap in between shifts. They look like a gang at times!

It’s easy to see that many of these workers have hard lives. We wanted to get an insight perspective on this community, so we visited one of the projects currently being built near the city centre. Here is a visual story for all the construction workers out there, who work to make our city beautiful.

Photo Gallery


Why the Middle Class is Vietnam’s Future

By: City Pass Guide

It’s no secret that the middle class carries the economic stability of a country more than any other demographic. The recent growth of exactly this group of consumers, who have left the constraints of poverty and have reached a new quality of life, is a very good sign for all businesses in the country. Simply put, the growing middle class is the motor of Vietnam’s rapidly growing economy.

Vietnam GDP

According to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), the “Middle and Affluent Class” (MAC) is experiencing a significant increase from 12 million people as of 2014, up to a projected 33 million people three years from now. This will be around a third of the country’s total population, which is forecast to reach 97 million by 2020.

A member of the middle class is defined by a monthly income of VND 15 million or more, which gives them significant purchasing power. Keep in mind, however, that these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. According to the Singapore-based Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, reliable data is difficult to obtain, since the discrepancy between a worker’s official salary and their unofficial income can be quite significant.

The Implications of Change

The influence of the growing middle class can be seen in many fields already, from restaurant businesses to office buildings and nice apartments; another good sign of increased purchasing power is the high quality of imported goods flowing into the country.

The change is evident everywhere and the Vietnamese are optimistic about their wealth increasing in the future.

According to the BCG, a staggering 92 percent of Vietnamese believe that they live a better life than their parents, and 93 percent believe that their own children will live in better conditions than they do now. This optimism contributes to the stable economic growth Vietnam is experiencing at the moment.

Vietnam middle class

It’s not all good, however. One problem with the rapid development is the lack of consumer goods and distribution channels. While the real estate sector can easily keep up with the trend, shopping for suitable goods is sometimes a pain. The retail environment is simply not ready for the changing consumer behaviour, which creates occasional price and quality problems.

Resourceful business owners like Carey Zesinger of Havang prefer to see this problem as an opportunity to tap into the market.

Technology plays a part in this story as well. Vietnamese are avid internet users – a whopping 43 percent of members of the MAC are using the web on a daily basis; however, just 16 percent shop online. This may be due to a significant lack of trust and the low quality of many available online stores.

On the other hand, many businesses already know how to attract customers: by offering deals and discounts! There are few countries in the world where people are more actively hunting for deals than in Vietnam. Income class does not matter in this case: everybody loves a discount.

Trending to the Future

Of course, economic status doesn’t just affect retail businesses. Middle class families are also tending to invest in proper education for their children, which will in return increase their children’s chances of finding quality, good-paying jobs. This will help them support their own middle class family in the future. Moreover, good education increases awareness of social and health issues, which will in turn lead to responsible consumer behaviour. It’s a good cycle to start.

The demand for healthy food and high-quality, affordable goods and services ultimately drives our economy. Vietnam’s movers and shakers are beginning to realise that producing goods and services in the country will more effectively tap into the increased mass purchasing power. This, in turn, will create more and better jobs. We’re experiencing a period of economic transition in Vietnam, and this is driven in large part by the rising middle class.

When it comes to business, the window of opportunity is wide open. Of course, it comes with obstacles, risks and drawbacks. The competition is huge from both foreign investors and Vietnamese entrepreneurs. But there is rarely an opportunity without risk, so we wish you Chuc mung nam moi! May you dare and grab the rooster by the neck!


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