The story about a French visitor getting stuck in Vietnam during the Covid-19 pandemic who had to sell local snacks to earn a living went viral before Tet, the Lunar New Year. This story moved many social media users who showed their sympathy for the French traveler. However, to some other foreigners who became stranded here because of the pandemic, the situation was not so miserable.
Several foreigners in Vietnam are not happy with the question posed to them that why they have got stuck here during the pandemic. “Why not stay in a safe place? Where should we go now?” these expatriates would reply. In fact, in some countries Covid-19 may kill thousands of people a day. What’s more, finding a job back home may be a nightmare at this moment, several of them say.
Some of the expatriates who have remained in Vietnam since the outbreak of Covid-19 think differently, though. One argues that only foreigners, especially those from Western countries, who are in financial distress, did not get on board an airplane to go back home although they had no stable job in Vietnam.
To this specific contingent of expatriates in Vietnam, the fear of a homecoming was so big that they chose to stay here although they could board an outbound flight to get home by the time the pandemic began to spread in the country. According to the above expatriate, foreigners who work from home, or are YouTubers, disc-jockeys or performers at bars in Vietnam’s big cities, and many others are practicing thrift to make both ends meet with their current meager income. Some are in fact dodgers of unemployment in their home countries.
One of the most common occupations followed by the above expatriates in Vietnam is teaching English. This job earns them fairly enough, about US$1,200 per month. However, several will find it difficult when they come to the retirement age because they have virtually no savings though their salaries are high compared with those of the majority of Vietnamese.
The expatriate mentioned above says his life in Vietnam has been wonderful. However, a jobless expat would have to prepare for a final homecoming sooner or later regardless of his or her will, argues this expatriate.
According to Vietnam’s immigration department, foreigners entering the country with a visa waiver or with a visa as of March 1, 2020 were eligible to an automatic visa extension until June 30, 2020. If they entered Vietnam prior to March 1, 2020 but got stuck in Vietnam due to Covid-19 and were certified by diplomatic agencies for isolation because of or treatment for Covid-19 or other force majeure events, their visas were also automatically extended until June 30, 2020. However, the chance to come back to Vietnam easily again after such a return would not be big because the Vietnamese border is still closed to many countries. Many expatriates may find it more difficult to land a job or build a career in their home country. Yet a multitude of them still revalidate their visas to Vietnam every month to remain here.
Unemployment in the United States and Europe has yet to abate while the high number of Covid-19 infections is still going on with no definite end in sight. These are pieces of bad news received by some expatriates in Vietnam. Some of them may rent a room for US$100 per month here. But if they come home immediately, they would have to spend about US$4,000 for the airfare, quarantine costs and health checks.
Out of money, visa invalid
Adrian (name has been changed), who comes from a country in Eastern Europe, ran into a problem when his visa expired last year. This 28-year-old man is an independent film director. Coming to Vietnam last January, Adrian faced no problem with immigration during a few months that followed his arrival.
Adrian then easily found a job as an instrumentalist in a music band working for some bars. He soon tried to make short films and engaged in other artistic activities. Initially, he felt Vietnam was a source of happiness as the country provided him with a good environment for his short film projects which was his major in university.
When all bars and all entertainment activities were closed and banned nationwide following the wide spread of the coronavirus in April and later once again in July, Adrian’s income here soon went flat. He became lonely in a strange country. To make matters worse, his girlfriend parted him as he ran out of money. Anyway, Adrian still wanted to stay here.
Money was not the only problem for Adrian. The worse, he says, came when his visa expired on April 15. At the time, he asked some service firms to do the visa extension procedures for him. However, says Adrian, they told him to pay VND16 million for the overdue visa and VND3.5 million for the monthly extension. At the end of last year, while everybody around him were celebrating the New Year’s Eve, Adrian anxiously prayed for the visa extension.
Finally, Adrian was able to take a deep sigh of relief when he received his passport with the needed extended visa. What made him happier was no fines had been imposed on him. After a long time of stress, Adrian can now be calm to focus on his job of making films.
Despite a hard time in Vietnam due to Covid-19, Adrian still thinks being stuck here during the pandemic is not bad at all, at least because he has found out a playground where he could demonstrate and put into use his talents.
By My Huyen