by Thu Huong - Minh Thi
HAI DUONG — Returning from his five-year stint in South Korea as a migrant worker in 2005, including three years at an automobile factory in Busan, Nguyen Thanh Thuy, 36, was able to save a total of US$33,000.
Thuy had to return only because his papers expired.
The resident of Hung Thai Commune in the province's Ninh Giang District said he wanted to return to South Korea later but could not find the right opportunity. Desperate to return, he was swindled out of millions of dong by brokers who promised him a chance to go back.
"I desperately wanted to return to South Korea around the year 2006-07 but could not," Thuy said. "So I did basically nothing for a year."
Thuy said he did not want to work in Ha Noi, which is about 87km away, since he would only be able to earn a few million dong monthly. So he ended up using all his savings to convert his house to three storeys and open a small grocery store.
The Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs estimates that more than 758,000 migrant workers like Thuy left the country between 1999-2010.
Across the country, migrant workers' income has transformed poor villages into communities with brick boards and multi-story houses. Some villages have even been dubbed "village of South Korea" or "village of Taiwan" due to the large number of residents who go to these countries as guest workers.
However, after their labour contracts expire, many have ended up returning home. They are left with an unenviable choice: spend all their savings, return to farming, or wait to be sent abroad again.
Experts have warned that Viet Nam has not done enough to create job opportunities for returning guest workers, leading many to stay abroad illegally and waste the skills they learnt abroad.
Of 1,450 guest workers, 89 percent had savings of VND312 million (nearly US$14,860) for those who had worked in Japan for three full years and VND243 million ($11,570) and VND145 million ($6,900) for those who worked in South Korea and Taiwan respectively, according to a research study conducted by the Institute of Labour Science and Social Affairs and the Department of Overseas Labour in 2010 and 2011.
The study, however, also found that most of the returning workers spent their savings on paying off previous debts, fixing homes and buying new home furniture. Only 9 per cent of the savings were used on expanding production, building a home business or continuing job training.
The workers also had trouble integrating back into the labour market, only 9.38 per cent were able to find jobs in the same sector where they worked abroad and more than half continuing to work in low-skilled sectors.
Officials from the Department of Overseas Labour (DOLAB) also estimate that more than 60 per cent of migrant workers go abroad with the sole purpose of escaping poverty, rather than learning professional skills.
Upon their return, most of them do not want to return to their previous low-paying jobs. The Government, however, has so far made no specific plans to take advantage of the workers returning from overseas.
Assistance for the returning workers, if there is any, is mostly found in consultation services from employment centres, which may advise them on how to use their savings or recommend appropriate jobs.
Hoang Kim Ngoc, DOLAB's deputy head, told the Thoi Bao Kinh Doanh (The Business Times) newspaper that most areas had established committees on raising the number of migrant workers, but the issue of supporting returning workers had not been addressed at all.
"The workers obviously do not have any direction and at the same time, the Government and other relevant agencies have not come up with appropriate measures to support them upon their return," Ngoc was quoted as saying.
Bui Dinh Dien, head of the Hung Thai Commune People's Committee, remembered that the first batch of guest workers from the village went to Malaysia around 1996 to work in construction - without any training .
Conned by brokers
"They returned after about three years and were not able to save any money. Some could not even afford to return home, and families here had to send cash to help," he said. "After that, most returned to low-skilled jobs, in Ha Noi or elsewhere. But they were the first who failed the two demands facing migrant workers: get money and get skills."
Since then, workers in the commune have occasionally gone abroad independently, but Dien admitted that there were all sort of troubles associated with this: being conned by brokers, suffering working conditions far worse from what they were promised, losing their legal status abroad.
The fortunate were those who returned home with millions of dong that could help them pay off debts. Those who weren't lucky return home with almost nothing.
Nguyen Thien Hung, 42, another worker in the commune, remembered being put into a detention camp in Poland along with another man after their visas expired.
"They told me that I would get US$300 working as a food worker in a Vietnamese restaurant in Warsaw and then after a year later, it could be $350 or $400," Hung said. "After a year, the visa expired and we were basically illegal."
Hung then managed to stay in Poland for another four years, saving millions of dong. "People told us it would be much better if we go abroad. But I would never go back again." Now, he has returned to farming.
Bui Thien Tiep was a bit luckier. In 2003, he went to Taiwan under the suggestion of a relative who found him a job building a railway track in Taiwan. The contract was signed for two years, but Tiep said they ran out of work after two months.
Tiep had paid US$5,000 to the broker in Viet Nam - all borrowed funds.
"No one took responsibility for us so we had to stay illegally in Taiwan to earn back the money we borrowed to get here," he said. "I ended up working in various places as a welder."
Upon his return in 2007, he had saved VND200 million ($9,500).
He still wanted to go abroad but the only opportunity he could find was the brokers who tried luring him to South Korea.
Tiep managed to open a home construction business which now has a monthly revenue of about VND10-15 million ($476-714). "I did nothing for one or two years. With my savings and also help from my family, I opened this store."
Meanwhile, companies are starting to do more to support returning migrant workers. Tran Van Thanh, head of the Overseas Manpower Services Company, said the company had been arranging for workers returning from Japan to work for the same Japanese company's branch in Viet Nam or for one of its partners.
Thanh said about 30 per cent of the workers returning from Japan chose to work for Japanese companies back home, using the skills they obtained overseas. These workers earned about $600 a month. But more must be done for these migrant workers. Otherwise, as one returning guest worker puts it, the road home is even tougher. — VNS