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Vietnam: New Export, People

by John GittelsohnOrange County Register
January 28th, 2001

Overseas or guest workers have become a fixture in today's global economy, filling labor shortages in agriculture, construction and high-tech industries.

Vietnam plans to become one of the world's largest labor exporters, sending 1 million workers overseas by the year 2010.

"Sending laborers to work abroad is one of Vietnam's major efforts to settle issues of employment, especially for young people," Prime Minister Pham Van Khai said last year.

The Vietnamese Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs reported about 32,000 overseas workers last year, up from 22,000 workers who sent $220 million home in 1999.

Leading destinations for Vietnamese workers were South Korea, Laos, Japan, Taiwan, Libya, the United Arab Emirates, Senegal and Pacific island nations and territories.

They worked in construction, manufacturing, sea transport, seafood processing, health care and agriculture.

Per capita income in Vietnam averaged $370 in 1999, or about $1 per day, according to the World Bank.

The average annual per capita income in Asia was $1,000.

This month, a Hanoi company named Trancimexco announced it was negotiating to find 100 jobs in the United States for computer engineers, nurses, salespeople and sailors.

"The U.S. is a huge market we cannot afford to miss," Le Quoc Khanh, an official with Trancimexco, told foreign reporters in Hanoi.

Khanh, whose company is among 159 licensed by Vietnam to send workers overseas, said he was negotiating with Uni Enterprise International Inc. in Philadelphia and Miami Overseas Services in Florida. Florida records list no company called Miami Overseas Service, and Uni Enterprise recently vacated its office without leaving a forwarding address.

Officials at the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington said they had no knowledge of the efforts to find jobs for their nationals in the United States.

"All we know is what has been in the press," said Thong Nguyen, an embassy spokeswoman.

Before communism collapsed in 1989, Vietnam had about 300,000 workers in Eastern Europe.

Thousands of Vietnamese workers were caught in Kuwait when Iraq invaded in 1990.

But Lan Quoc Nguyen, a Westminster attorney and refugee advocate, was skeptical that Vietnam could become a legal source of U.S. workers.

"They don't have the training. They don't speak English," he said.

"I doubt any will set foot on the continental U.S."

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