Viet Nam Ranks 5th in Emigration to the United States

travel stateViet Nam ranks 5th in two US-related categories:  the number of its young people studying there as of last June and the number of its citizens who emigrated there in Fiscal Year 2017, which ended on 30 September 2017.  (Viet Nam is a “top ten” country in other categories, including EB-5 cases and US real estate purchases in 2016/17.)

Below is a list of the top 10 countries for US-bound immigration (PDF download).

  1. Mexico: 84,045
  2. Dominican Republic: 48,254
  3. China: 35,350
  4. Philippines: 30,410
  5. Viet Nam: 28,719
  6. India: 27,303
  7. Haiti: 16,694
  8. Jamaica: 13,695
  9. Bangladesh: 12,331
  10. Pakistan: 12,143

The breakdown for Viet Nam is as follows, along with an official definition of each category: 

Immediate relatives: 9,974  (Certain immigrants who because of their close relationship to U.S. citizens are exempt from the numerical limitations imposed on immigration to the United States. Immediate relatives are: spouses of citizens, children (under 21 years of age and unmarried) of citizens, and parents of citizens 21 years of age or older.

Special Immigrants: 53  A special immigrant is a person who qualifies for a green card (permanent residence) under the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) special immigrant program. In order to apply for immigration documents under this status, an individual must fill out a petition documenting his or her circumstances and submit the petition to USCIS.

Family Preference: 17,991 U.S. immigration law allows certain foreign nationals who are family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to become lawful permanent residents (get a Green Card) based on specific family relationships.

Employment Preference: 665  Approximately 140,000 immigrant visas are available each fiscal year for aliens (and their spouses and children) who seek to immigrate based on their job skills. If you have the right combination of skills, education, and/or work experience and are otherwise eligible, you may be able to live permanently in the United States. There are five employment-based immigrant visa preferences, including the popular EB-5 immigrant investor program in which Viet Nam ranks a distant second to China. 

Diversity Immigrants: The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (DV Program) makes up to 50,000 immigrant visas available annually, drawn from random selection among all entries to individuals who are from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. The number is 0 because Viet Nam has a high rate of emigration to the US.  

Finally, 36 visas were issued under the Vietnam Amerasian categoryImmigrant visas are issued to Amerasians under Public Law 100-202 (Act of 12/22/87), which provides for the admission of aliens born in Vietnam after January 1, 1962, and before January 1, 1976, if the alien was fathered by a U.S. citizen. Spouses, children, and parents or guardians may accompany the alien.  Of the estimated 50,000 Amerasian children born during the war, 21,000 of them and more than 55,000 family members were permitted to emigrate to the US under the Amerasian Homecoming Act of 1987.  Only about 3% of Ameriasians in the US have found their fathers.  The rest are in Viet Nam, many in HCMC.  (Here’s a related story from 2015 and a more recent one about a father-daughter reunion.)

TOTAL:  28,719

The dynamics of push and pull are obvious here, given the fact that people from these countries represent large ethnic minority populations in the US.  For example, Mexican-Americans comprise 11.2% of the population.

Vietnamese immigrants are 5.1% of the worldwide total (559,536) with nearly as many Vietnamese moving to the US as immigrants from all of South America (30,242).  Vietnamese-Americans are the fourth-largest Asian American group after Chinese-, Indian-, and Filipino-Americans.  The US Census Bureau estimates the total population of Vietnamese-Americans (Việt kiều) to be just over 2 million, which is about 44% of the world’s overseas Vietnamese.

Where Do They Live?

California and Texas have the highest concentrations of Vietnamese-Americans with 40% and 12%, respectively.  Those states are also #1 and #2 in student enrollment with 6,171 in CA and 5,221 in TX, as of May 2017, according to the SEVIS by the Numbers quarterly update, for a two-state total of 11,392.  This means that two states out of 50 and Puerto Rico, which had one (1) student from Viet Nam, hosted 38% of all Vietnamese students, at the end of the 2016/17 academic year. 

Another interesting observation is that the percentage of young Vietnamese studying in CA was significantly lower than the percentage of Vietnamese-Americans living in that state (20.38%), while in Texas it was slightly higher (17.24%).

Other states with sizable concentrations of Vietnamese-Americans are Washington (4%), Florida (4%), and Virginia (3%).  It’s probably not a coincidence that these are among the top 10 host states for Vietnamese students.  There are also significant numbers of Vietnamese-Americans in Atlanta and New York, among other cities.  

Vietnamese in the U.S. Fact Sheet

In its series on social and demographic trends in the US, the Pew Research Center has produced fact sheets on Asians in the US, including Vietnamese-Americans.  It includes fairly up-to-date information about population, English proficiency, length of time in country, educational attainment, poverty rate, demographics, and social class.  For example, you can see how Vietnamese-Americans fare when compared with all Asians in the US in median annual household income, as well as the same income for US born vs. foreign born.  (The overall US median household income was $56,516 that year.)

economics vn-am

What Does It All Mean?

There are estimated 96 million Vietnamese, which means that the emigration of 28,719 of them to the US, most from southern Viet Nam, is a drop in the statistical bucket.  In case you’re wondering, that’s .03% of the population. 

Why do they go?  There are several reasons, most related to the pull factor.  The most obvious one is that so many Vietnamese in parts of the country that were in the former Republic of Viet Nam have so many relatives in the US.  Others, some of which overlap, are the often mistaken belief that the grass is greener, marriage (arranged or based on love), and employment-based cases.

In the meantime, growing numbers of overseas Vietnamese are relocating to Viet Nam, most likely in the thousands not tens of thousands, some to join a dynamic and promising startup scene, others to do non-profit work and still others simply to retire in their homeland.  The Vietnamese government has taken a number of steps to make them feel more welcome, including dual citizenship and the right to buy property.  (Many of those who have no intention of returning home are sending billions of dollars home in the form of remittances.  Viet Nam ranks 9th in that particular category with about 50% of those transfers coming from the US.)

Taking Advantage of a Golden Opportunity:  They Did It for the Children

I know of one couple who emigrated to the US through the Orderly Departure Program (ODP) created in 1979 under the auspices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as a way of allowing the immigration of Vietnamese affiliated with the Republic of Viet Nam government or military.  In this case, the man was a low-ranking soldier in the RVN army, like so many, and a farmer by trade. 

Why did they take advantage of the opportunity to emigrate?  Not because they were persecuted or discriminated against but as a way to give their children a better education and future.  Mission accomplished.  What are their future plans?  To return to Viet Nam for retirement because they really don’t like living in the US and they want to die and be buried in their hometown (quê hương).  Their children will likely remain.

BONUS:  There is Some Truth to This Particular Stereotype

It’s well-known that overseas Vietnamese and nail salons go hand in hand.  I’ve heard it used by consular officers as a reason why some student applicants are denied.   As the story goes, they say (“used to say” might be more accurate, since times have changed) that they plan to live with an aunt in San Jose and study at a local community college or university.  Said aunt just happens to own a nail salon that her niece will probably end up working in, illegally, of course.  It is a family business, after all.

In fact, according to the Wikipedia entry on Vietnamese-Americans and based on a reliable source,

Nail-salon work is skilled manual labor which requires limited English-speaking ability. Some Vietnamese Americans see the work as a way to accumulate wealth quickly, and many send remittances to family members in Vietnam. Vietnamese entrepreneurs from Britain and Canada have adopted the U.S. model and opened nail salons in the United Kingdom, where few had existed.

This trend occurs in Europe for the same reasons. Like the restaurant and other service sector businesses, labor costs are low and profit is high.  


Viet Nam: A Top 10 Recipient of Remittances

2016 top 10 remittancesAccording to the World Bank, Viet Nam ranked a close 9th to Bangladesh in 2016 in total remittances with an infusion of $13.4 billion. 

With a 2016 GDP of $202.6 billion this means that 6.6% of Viet Nam’s GDP was attributed to remittances.  (See GDP definition below.)

Where Does the Money Go?

According to the State Bank of Vietnam HCMC Branch, a report released in early 2016 indicated that 70% of remittances went to production and business projects, while 21.6% went to the real estate market and 7% was spent on families’, i.e., relatives’, daily lives, healthcare and education services. 

One result of the decrease in the dollar interest rate to 0% a couple of years ago has been more money flowing into real estate.  (HCMC has one of the hottest real estate markets in the world.)  The rationale behind the official decision to lower the USD interest rate to nothing was to prevent people from hoarding dollars.

remittances vn
Here is an overview of Viet Nam-bound remittances from 2006 to 2015.  (Source:  WB)

Another way to make money with money is simply to have foreign currency converted to VND and park it in a CD account.  Current savings interest rates are in the 7-8% range, considerably higher than in the sending countries.  This reflects the growth of the domestic credit market and explains why so many banks are doing so well.

vn gdp
Here’s a graphic look at Viet Nam’s dramatic GDP growth from 1985 through 2016.  (Source:  WB)

Brain Circulation:  A Mixed Bag

Remittances are one of the benefits of having a large diaspora and one reason why the term “brain drain” is not a useful description of what happens when people emigrate for whatever reason.  There are about 4.5 million overseas Vietnamese nearly half of whom are in the US.  Vietnamese-Americans send 60% of the total.  This also includes money sent by Vietnamese working overseas on a work visa.  The majority is sent by overseas Vietnamese. 

Future Prospects

It was predicted earlier this year that the decrease in remittances would continue, especially from the US, because of tighter restrictions on immigration to the US that would primarily affect illegal immigrants and those with a work visa.  (These individuals comprise up to 38% of all workers in the US from the Philippines, Viet Nam, and India.) 

In fact, it is estimated that Ho Chi Minh City will most likely receive a total of $5.2 billion in 2017, an increase of 6% from 2016.  Let me go out a limb here and say “As HCMC goes, so goes the country.”  ​(Viet Nam’s economy grew at the fastest rate in a decade this year and slightly higher than the government target of 6.7% exceeding the 6.21% for 2016.)

The November estimate was $5.7 billion, which was revised downward because of plans by the US Federal Reserve System to increase interest rates several times next year.  Another unknown variable is the VND/USD exchange rate, for which an “upward trend” is predicted “in the next four or five months”.  The VND has been stable for a number of years, thanks to government policy.  This means that there is virtually no difference on a given between the bank and “black market” rates.

Definition of GDP from The World Bank:  It’s useful from time to time to actually define terms, even if they are seemingly well-known.  Here’s the definition that the World Bank uses:  GDP at purchaser’s prices is the sum of gross value added by all resident producers in the economy plus any product taxes and minus any subsidies not included in the value of the products. It is calculated without making deductions for depreciation of fabricated assets or for depletion and degradation of natural resources. Data are in current U.S. dollars. Dollar figures for GDP are converted from domestic currencies using single year official exchange rates. For a few countries where the official exchange rate does not reflect the rate effectively applied to actual foreign exchange transactions, an alternative conversion factor is used.


Away from home: More Vietnamese leaving for richer countries

Students registering at the fall 2016 StudyUSA Higher Education Fair in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC).

This is the mildly provocative title of a recent VNExpress International article about Vietnamese studying, working, and seeking permanent resident status overseas.  While it may entice more netizens to read the article, the reality it attempts to describe is more multifaceted and complex than the black/white picture it paints.

Yes, significant numbers of young Vietnamese are studying overseas, including nearly 30,000 in the US alone, some with the intention of remaining, others not sure of their future path, and yet others with the goal of returning home.  (The statistics of Vietnamese studying overseas are outdated in this article; there are over 110,000 in the top five host countries alone:  Japan, the US, Australia, China, and Singapore.)

In fact, many do return home, if not immediately following completion of their studies, then after some time working overseas.  There are also growing numbers of overseas Vietnamese who are returning to their homeland (or that of their parents) to tap into Viet Nam’s dynamic and rapidly expanding economy.

Many of those high net worth individuals who invest in order to become US permanent residents, (similar programs in other countries), i.e,. who essentially buy a green card, are not emigrating.  They are essentially hedging their bets, diversifying their investments, and ensuring that they have more options in the future.

The significant number of Vietnamese working overseas benefit their families and Viet Nam through the money they send home, which is included in the $13 billion in remittances last year.  In addition, most will eventually return home, which will benefit Viet Nam’s economy.

The lure of the American Dream, which is a result of family ties and the often mistaken belief that the grass is greener on the other side, has contributed to Viet Nam’s status as a top 10 emigration country for the US.


Vietnam Remittances Top $12 Billion in 2015; OV Investment Nearly $9 Billion

File photo courtesy of TNN.

Last year, Vietnam received $12.3 billion in remittances, according to the World Bank, 57% of which came from the US.  This money is used for a variety of purposes, including investment in new businesses.  Another use is simply to convert dollars to VND and park the money in a savings account in order to earn 7% interest, a substantially higher ROI than in the US, where the interest rate is hovering around 1%.

In addition to remittances, there is significant overseas Vietnamese investment here, contrary to the letter and spirit of this recent Bloomberg article entitled Vietnam’s Divide: Slow Healing, Fewer Prospects for Children of U.S. Allies. According to the Ministry of Industry and Trade, overseas Vietnamese have invested in 52 out of 62 provinces and cities in Vietnam, where they currently run about 3,600 businesses with some 2,000 projects valued at a combined total of $8.6 billion.  The projects are in trading, tourism, construction and real estate, in addition to the production of export goods, aquaculture and seafood processing. They bring generate about $20 billion in annual revenue.

The Ministry mentioned that overseas Vietnamese companies and entrepreneurs have stakes in domestic banks such as Techcombank and VPBank, and major property and tourism businesses such as VinGroup and Sungroup.  There’s also overseas Vietnamese investment in large manufacturing companies like Eurowindow and Masan, as well as the waste processing firm Da Phuoc.


Vietnam Ranks 9th in… Remittances

According to the World Bank (PDF), officially recorded remittances to developing countries were estimated at $401 billion in 2012, and remain a key resource flow far exceeding official development assistance as well as private debt and portfolio equity.  Growth in remittances to developing countries decelerated to 5.3 percent in 2012, but is expected to accelerate to 8.8 percent during 2013-15.  Vietnam ranks 9th in the world in remittances, which amounted to an increase of $1 billion over the previous year and an impressive 7.1% of GDP ($141 billion).

Top 10 recipients of migrant remittances in 2012
Source: World Bank

Pham Binh Minh, Vietnam’s Foreign Minister, noted earlier this year that “The amount of remittances has accounted for 60-70 percent of foreign investment in Vietnam since 1991 and this is the real source of money contributing effectively to the national economic development, to the stabilization of the exchange rate and the increase of foreign exchange reserves.”  In addition to t he 4 million overseas Vietnamese in the U.S., Canada, Australia, France and other countries, there are also 400,000 Vietnamese workers in Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Middle East, etc. One key difference is that 30% of the remittances were sold to banks in 2012 vs. 14% in 2011.  The reason is the policies that the Vietnam State Bank implemented to maintain a stable exchange rate, thereby closing the gap between commercial banks and the black market. Money-Transfer_globeSo who receives this money and what is it used for?  It goes disproportionately to well-off family members living in urban areas, particularly Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC).  Last year, about $4.1 billion, or 41%, went to HCMC.  Of that amount, 70% was used for production and business, 23% for real estate purchase and 6% for assisting relatives. Ironically, the $10 billion that was transferred to Vietnam last year is one of the silver linings in the waves of emigration that occurred during and after the American War. MAA

Third Time’s The Charm

Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre News.

This is the third in a trilogy of posts on Vietnam’s ranking in different categories, including adjusted refusal rates for B (tourist/business) visas, Vietnam-US immigration trends and patterns and, last but not least, overseas remittances.  Why overseas remittances?  Because they relate (directly) to emigration and (indirectly) to education. 

An Overview

According to an April 2012 World Bank update entitled Remittance flows in 2011 – an update (PDF download), officially recorded remittance flows to developing countries are estimated to have reached $372 billion in 2011, an increase of 12.1 percent over 2010.  They are expected to grow at 7-8% annually to reach $467 billion by 2014. 

 Emigration & Remittances

As with any country, emigration is a mixed bag in terms of gains and losses. On the plus side, overseas Vietnamese return to Vietnam as tourists (a total of 6 million international visitors in 2011) and businesspeople, and contribute in various ways, including through investment and remittances.

In 2011, remittances reached $9 billion, which surpassed the previous year’s record by $1 billion. (This is 2.4% of total remittance flows to developing countries.)  Vietnam ranks 9th among all developing countries and 2ndin Southeast Asia – after the Philippines. 

The volume of overseas remittances to Vietnam comprised just 4.2% of the total gross domestic product (GDP) in 1999, but reached 7.8% in 2002, 7.7% in 2010 and 7.5% in 2011.  (Remittances to Vietnam in 1991 were $135 million.)  Most of the money sent back to Vietnam is used for investment in real estate; the rest is for bank deposits and the purchase of durable goods.  Presumably, a large chunk is also invested in education.

Source: World Bank

More than 4 million Vietnamese people are now living in 103 countries around the world, 80% of them in developed countries such as the United States or in Europe, according to a recent International Organization for Migration (IOM) update.  More than 500,000 Vietnamese are currently working in more than 40 countries and territories in occupations ranging from low to highly skilled, with more than 80,000 Vietnamese leaving each year to work abroad, according to the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA).


2010 Foreign Remittances Set New Record

Vietnam received record high remittances of $8 billion last year, up 25 per cent from a year earlier, despite the global economic recession. Photo: Reuters

According to a recent Associated Press article, Vietnam received a record $8 billion in remittances last year.  One of the reasons for this is that many overseas Vietnamese sent their money to relatives in Vietnam to benefit from the higher interest rates offered by local banks.  Another reason mentioned in an interview with economist Nguyen Minh Phong is that more restrictive labor laws in Russia and Eastern Europe have caused many Vietnamese to move their businesses back to Vietnam.  There are an estimated 3.6 million overseas Vietnamese, including 1.5 million in the US and 300,000 in both Australia and France. 

AVietNamNet article  reported that the total volume of inflow remittances to Ho Chi Minh City in 2010 exceeded $3.8 billion last year, an increase of nearly 20% over the previous year, according to the Ho Chi Minh City branch of the State Bank of Vietnam.  The World Bank ranked Vietnam 16th among 30 nations receiving the most remittances.

The VietNamNet article pointed out the advantages of remittances, including minimizing the risks in raising capital and reducing dependence on foreign capital.  So where does all of this money go?  For historical reasons most of it flows to southern Vietnam and finds its way into savings accounts and new investments, including education. 

In 2010, Vietnam’s GDP reached $104.6 billion with a per capita income of $1218.  This means that foreign remittances accounted for 7.7% of GDP.