14 February 2015, The Economist

Working abroad is no bargain

BROKERS’ billboards outside Tan Lieu, a poor rural community in northern Vietnam, advertise “Labour Export”—jobs abroad. Vietnam’s youthful population of 90m adds up to 1.5m each year to the growing work pool. But economic growth, at 6%, is not fast enough to keep all of them employed. Dreaming of fortune, young Vietnamese are pouring overseas as maids, builders and factory workers.

Than Thi Hang is a daughter of Tan Lieu farmers. She flew to Taiwan when she was 18. Assembling mobile phones on 12- and 16-hour graveyard shifts was “easier than farming”, she says. Yet to finance the trip, her family borrowed close to $5,000 to pay a labour broker. Ms Hang spent more than a year nervously working off her debts.


Vietnamese authorities say they get the message. With support from international aid donors, they have opened a handful of offices where prospective migrants can learn about their rights. Vietnam’s press also makes much of police busts of lawbreaking labour recruiters. Yet changes are mainly skin-deep. Futaba Ishizuka, a researcher at the Institute of Developing Economies in Japan, says the government lacks the political will to regulate the labour agencies, which are often unlicensed affiliates of state-owned enterprises.

For all the tribulations, rural Vietnamese, especially from northern and central provinces, are still eager to go abroad. The fruits of migration are clear. In Tan Lieu, 64km (40 miles) from Hanoi, slender concrete homes, financed by remittances, are rising next to the paddies. Ms Hang says she has already saved the $3,200 needed for the renovation of the family home.



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