As local legend has it, when Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew visited Vietnam in the mid-1990s to focus on the successful early development of the first two Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Parks (VSIP), he shared some of his most visionary—and challenging—advice for the country. Mr. Lee reportedly advised the Vietnamese to let in as many foreign staff and workers as investors applied for; the reason being that these foreigners would bring in their technology, which would then be locally assimilated, allowing Vietnam to catch up with the rest of the booming region.

In the following years, with relatively liberal policies for investment and plenty of foreign staff to help implement it, Vietnam made remarkable progress catching up and in some cases surpassing other developing countries. But more recently—especially during the virtual shut-down that came with the COVID pandemic—work permits and employment-related paperwork have, according to foreign business associations during stakeholder consultation events earlier this year, become harder to get due to complex required administrative procedures. 

However, with the issuance of Decree 70/2023/ND-CP (Decree 70), which took effect on September 18th, some of these procedures have been streamlined. Other rules have unfortunately been tightened, particularly with the aim of prioritizing jobs for local employees. The immediate upshot is that, so long as work permit dossiers are prepared carefully and in accordance with the detailed requirements of the law for employers and qualified applicants, they will be forthcoming in a reasonable period of time.

While, in the past, a general job description would have sufficed for this purpose, the new rules require exact details of the job opening. And only if the posting fails to produce a qualified Vietnamese employee, can the employer then proceed to hire from abroad. To be clear, this is not a new requirement, but a stricter reiteration of an old one.

On the other hand, conditions for work permit eligibility have been relaxed somewhat, and past work permits can be used to evidence eligibility of experts and technical workers. The documentary requirements for business managers have also been clarified to allow several forms of documentary evidence to suffice. Similarly, the definition of executive directors has been expanded.

Other features of the new rules will take some getting used to, including the requirement of giving advance notice of every work location to the work permit issuing authority (national or local level) in the case that an employee has more than one work place. Some aspects of these provisions seem out of touch with the modern “nomad worker” economy, but in the end, the Minister Mentor would be impressed with how Vietnam has taken his advice and maintained a relatively open skills market, accelerating its socio-economic development in the process.

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Tim Burrill
Membership Manager & Executive Assistant
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