Overseas work not a guarantee for career prosperity

September 21, 2022 | 08:00
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Many low-skilled overseas Vietnamese workers are struggling on their return home, finding it difficult to settle in and find new jobs in the face of fierce domestic competition.

There’s only about a year to go until Do Thi Thuy has to return to Vietnam upon completing her nursing contract in Taiwan. She currently earns the equivalent of about VND20 million ($870), which is five times higher than she earned as a cashier in a motorbike shop before she moved abroad.

Overseas work not a guarantee for career prosperity
High-quality training programmes crucial for overseas working success

Thuy set a goal after returning home to buy a house, and use the remaining money to open a small grocery store. More than two years ago, the value of the type of house Thuy would like cost about VND400 million ($17,000).

However, the process of urbanisation has pushed real estate prices in localities to increase by double. Now, Thuy only has two options: use all of her savings to start a business and continue renting as before, or borrow more to buy a house, and then work another job to earn money to pay off the debt.

“Life is a vicious circle. I can’t do a nursing job because my hometown doesn’t have a nursing home,” Thuy shared. “If I want to continue this work, I have to go to big cities, but the income will be lower than in Taiwan and the cost of living is also very expensive.”

Elsewhere, Hoang Thi Na is an ethnic minority woman who gave up her job as a public school teacher after 10 years to dream of a prosperous life after working abroad. After only three months, Na had to return to her home country due to the company’s pandemic-induced bankruptcy. From a teacher with a university degree, Na suddenly became a worker in an industrial park in Bac Giang province.

“I can’t go back to my old job,” Na insists. “Giving up a stable job to work abroad was a risky decision and I’m ashamed to admit I made the wrong choice. Now I have over $4,000 of debt that was racked up while trying to prepare everything for the job abroad before leaving,” she said.

Vietnam started exporting its labour force 40 years ago, reaching about 100,000 people per year today. According to the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MoLISA), Vietnamese work in more than 30 fields and occupations in 40 different countries and territories, often in developed countries in Asia and Europe with good income and working conditions.

Some labour markets have begun to open again after the pandemic to receive Vietnamese workers, especially in Europe, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan.

“Nearly one million Vietnamese went abroad to work from 2013 to 2021, and many new markets also opened up in that time, such as Australia, New Zealand, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Romania,” said Nguyen Ba Hoan, Deputy Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs.

Although the demand for Vietnamese workers in new markets is increasing in many areas, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are the main destinations, taking 90 per cent of the workforce.

Currently, nearly 50,000 Vietnamese workers are in South Korea in manufacturing, construction, agriculture, and fisheries, with salaries ranging from $500-2,000 per month, while Taiwan receives about 350,000 Vietnamese workers, with incomes ranging from $500-1,000.

Japan takes the highest number where there are over 370,000 trainees out of a total of nearly 500,000 Vietnamese workers in the country. The average income of a Vietnamese worker in Japan is about $1,200-1,400 per month.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) said the country will need 6.74 million foreign workers by 2040, with Vietnam set to remain the largest source of workers, accounting for 28 per cent of foreign workers.

With much higher incomes than in the domestic job market, the aim of most foreign workers is to improve the quality of their lives on their return. However, after the sunny days of working for good money abroad, they meet many issues upon their return.

At a conference on labour export held by the MoLISA a month ago, many experts pointed out the fact that 90 per cent of people going to work abroad belong to low-skilled groups with limited expertise and foreign languages. This is the main reason that makes it difficult for them to develop or find a job when they return home.

This statement is also consistent with a survey by JICA of interns working in Japan. Only 26.7 per cent of Vietnamese interns returning home found jobs similar to those in Japan, the lowest compared to other countries in the region, while the rate in China, Thailand, and the Philippines was more than 50 per cent.

The reason given by over 340 Japanese enterprises and more than 40 employers surveyed is that Vietnamese interns mainly work in construction, agriculture, services, and IT, but are not able to speak Japanese. Many enterprises said that the scope of work of interns is therefore limited, and in addition, they can often only work using one type of machine that may not be used in Vietnam.

Nearly half of companies consider income as a major barrier when recruiting students to study back from Japan. Their average monthly income in Japan is between $1,000-1,500, which is 3-4 times higher than the average domestic novice worker.

According to Nghiem Quoc Hung, chairman of Hoang Long Investment Construction and Manpower Supply JSC, most workers now seriously consider going to work abroad for the purpose of making money, improving skills, and gaining experience for future career development.

Many students who finished high school have chosen to work abroad immediately, so they can only do unskilled labour with simple, low-income jobs.

“Labour export should now be viewed from the perspective of international labour migration in order to absorb advanced techniques and experiences from developed countries, in order to serve domestic production in a meaningful way.” Hung said.

To solve the problem of unemployment for post-export workers, Nguyen Luong Trao, former chairman of the Vietnam Labour Export Association, has proposed increasing the proportion of high-quality workers such as university and college students to 10-30 per cent of the export labour structure.

“Foreign businesses that come to Vietnam to invest are thirsty for skilled workers. Workers going abroad will have the opportunity to learn and be better trained, as when they return they will be the potential workforce of foreign enterprises with the new skills they have been equipped with,” Trao said.

High-quality training programmes crucial for overseas working success High-quality training programmes crucial for overseas working success

Despite sending 100,000 people to work abroad every year, the vast majority are unskilled. Deputy director of the Department of Overseas Labour under the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs Nguyen Gia Liem discussed the challenges of the labour export market and the search for a high-income market for workers with VIR’s Thai An.

By Hoang Oanh

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