On 15-march 2022, Vietnam announced its opening to travel visa. Why 3-month later, travel agencies are still waiting for travelers to return to 18 Mio pre-Covid?
After 2 years of complete lockdown of Vietnam to visitors, from march 2020 to march 2022, the long wait was supposed to end.
What’s happening that travelers are still not here yet? When will the pre-Covid level of 1.5Mio visitors/month be back? Is Vietnam travel visa really open to tourists in 2022?
Vietnam Visa issuance and stopping past abuses during Covid
The long wait for Vietnam to reopen was officially ended on the 15-march 2022 announcement by Vietnam authorities.
15-march 2022: On that day, just 13 countries: “Citizens from Belarus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden and the UK will be allowed to visit Vietnam for up to 15 days without visa regardless of passport type and entry purpose”.
1-april 2022: As the pressure went on, then 1-april came a 2nd announcement: An electronic visa (E-visa) is one of visa types issued to foreigners by the Vietnamese Immigration Department via electronic system. Vietnam E-visa is valid for a maximum of 30 days, single entry. It will be processed in 3 working days. Details on 80 countries and the Procedure for Vietnam e-Visa and fee
12-23 May 2022: Vietnam organizes the SEA games postponed of 1-year, due to Covid crisis.
Meanwhile since 15-march the pressure mounts:
- What about the rest of the world access to Vietnam? only 80-out-of-195 can have 30-day e-visa
- Why can the Vietnamese embassies of the world not issue visas?
- Why visa or travel agencies can not provide visa services anymore? Just business visitors?
- Why is there no renewal of 90-day visitors visas? as it has been the case forever.
- Stays over 30-day not granted?
- Why are e-visa supposedly issued in 3 working days delayed up to 7 days or more?
- When will all this visa granted will be really open to all? planned, informed and transparent?
Vietnam 90-day Visa abuses during Covid pandemics and before
Until 2019, Vietnam immigration and visas were in the mindset of the country catching up with neighboring ASEAN countries. In 2019, with 18 Mio visitors Vietnam trails Thailand 40 Mio and tourism business brings US$32Bn and doubles to Thailand US$64Bn.
The opening strategy gave visa agencies, companies, provincial cities authorities a laissez-faire blind eye to visitors entries. Obviously the visa ‘stamp holders’ were rewarded by the proliferation of ‘stamp facilitators’ a split of $50 or so ie. the differential between US$25 into state coffers and up to US$75 collected by the agent facilitator. All was fine until Covid unveiled and boosted the number of foreign visitors living and working on ‘90-day visa runs’ in all types of businesses, as the national security congress explained on 31-mar-2022
Covid19 pandemics doubled the pain for Immigration Police discovering abusive issuance and mis-use of working/investor visa during 2020 & 2021, the 2-years of Covid:
- With strict Vietnam lockdown to new entries -no more issuance of entry or renewal 90-day visas, hordes of foreigners were forced to declare their overstay.
- Whilst Vietnam kept the door slightly opened to Investors and Experts (mainly factory set-up engineers) in the 2-years of Covid, in early 2022, when preparing to re-open, the Ministry of Interior discovered a lot of Visa invitations for Investors and Experts were fake too, arranged by struggling companies to make money as visa agents.
On 30-march 2022: Immigration police imposes strict travel Visa issuance
To the great disappointment of future visitors, without planning, without procedure, unilateral decisions by immigration authorities were enforced. All computerized and centralized from now ie. past visa history for each returning visitors (since 2015 database input) are analyzed to decide on visa issuance or denials.
On 1-april, with immediate effect, and still in force as I write, for visitors to Vietnam:
- 15-mar-22: Visa exemption for 13 countries visitors less than 15-day
- 30-mar-22: Tourist e-visa online issuance at US$25 -non refundable- for 80 countries nationals within 3-days
- Business visas issuance on corporate invitation -now responsible for your Entry & Exit for the duration of the business trip-.
- No renewals of 90-day visas
- No extensions of stay
- No provision for the remaining countries out of the 80 list
- No visa issuance by tourism or visa agents
- No issuance of tourist visas by Vietnamese embassies worldwide
That is definitely not what business people or tourist calls ‘Vietnam re-opening 2022’.
Multiple pressures and demands on Visa Vietnam
Of course, not renewing visas for various people used to visa-runs or other family or working arrangements since the early 2003 when private enterprise law was enacted create ‘turbulence’.
But also opening back post-Covid involves new considerations for a global country:
- Ministry of Health for Covid pandemy and treatment where Vietnam have a large population and very little Covid hospitalization Intensive Care Units
- Tourism board who want safety for visitors with mandatory travel insurance to pay for hospital bills and travel disruptions
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs who wants to comply with Asean, EU and other diplomatic country partners
- Ministry of Planning and Investment: you can not only open doors to Investment money without opening to the countries business people and working expatriates then their visitors.
Only 80 countries out of 195 are allowed in for tourism, visiting with e-visa. A world-class aspiring country like Vietnam should communicate on perspective and planning, if not explanations at least communication on what lies ahead. Standing and reputation is of importance to Vietnam who still need trading and investment to develop.
Not letting travel tour operators, visa agents, cities/provinces/trade authorities and Vietnamese embassies worldwide process visas when it is their main purpose is not going to be a smooth ride. Not talking about cutting into the Visa income generator to e-visa centralized in Hanoi.
Now that SEA games have ended on a high note, the organization and gold medals. It is a good time to continue on a winning streak.
Planning and organization is not in Vietnamese DNA
Looking at the way Vietnam managed the Covid crisis in 2020 and 2021, pre and post Delta/Omicron variants, one may conclude that Vietnam is good at managing crise therefore simple events like re-opening the country to visitors ‘after 2-years of préparation during forced complete lockdown’. But one must nor mistake between Planning and Execution skills; Vietnam is only skilled at the latter as the military deployment showed on end-aug-2022 to contain the Covid delta variant
After 30 years as a resident, there are at least 3 main reasons to explain Vietnamese authorities weakness on planning and organization:
- Lack of superior world-class education by Government leaders and workers. Their background is military, police or provincial political activism.
- Lack of talents due to unattractive low salaries and political career path. The kind of skilled government leaders capable of synthesizing past, cutting-edge knowledge into a set of procedures applicable to the lower level of administration and citizens.
- Free and Independent spirit. The Vietnamese saying ‘the laws of the king stop at the door of the city’. Meaning a clear dichotomy between central government party ruling and daily business as usual of the people…
Except in times of extreme life threatening crises -like wars, famine or Covid- that Vietnamese combine Planning & Execution.
Government workers poor in talents
As mentioned above, the government recruits its leaders based on political total alignment. Cutting itself off knowledgeable innovators. Those individuals end-up in the private sector, sometimes becoming hugely successful.
The massive government worker base follows the same path. Their power drips down from the central government in the form of a license and a stamp they can use, unfortunately without the knowledge of underlying wealth creating understanding and empathy to the private sector employees.
Political power and economical powers are very distinct in terms of rationale and functioning.
Vietnam Immigration officers torn between National and Self interests
There have always been 2 currents; the Vietnam National and the Private interest: here open the economy for people to make a living again and control the entry of so many illegal visitors during decades of laissez-faire.
Until a ‘new sheriff in town’ rules the ‘stamp holders’ and stops forcefully (no jokes with jail terms as an example) the business of the ‘stamp facilitators’. New procedures are sent from central Hanoi like banning embassies to issue visas and e-visa online by-passing all intermediaries: $25 cost and 3-day issuance.
The difference between the market price, let’s say $50, shared by the ‘stamp facilitator’ up above the food chain to the ‘stamp holder’ is gone. Prepare for all kinds of difficulties as the facilitators are gone with the source of ‘coffee-money’. And surely a kind of reversal of the current decisions leading to this course of history. We already see a flurry of complaints on the 3-day e-visa issuance, that is supposed to be computerized?
To be continued…
Navigation at sight for Vietnam Visa decisions
Luck and prayers are not a travel and business strategy!
Whilst the official 15-march opening of Vietnam to visitors, does not show clear signs of increased visitors. Businesses and the people need to return to pre-Covid very badly after 2-years of hibernation and for some starvation.
Pressure mounts and rushed decisions are taken to compensate with lack of planning skills and forward thinking for workable innovative solutions.
For example, on 16-may-2022, all Vietnam entry restrictions were lifted -except perhaps the Covid travel insurance for minimum $10,000 of costs-. Even the vaccination status has been omitted! In view of limited Covid ICU hospital rooms -a few hundred in capital cities and none in provincial towns-, let’s cross finger that nothing happens to visitors during their stay that would lead to bad worldwide advertising on healthcare and safe traveling in Vietnam.
What’s coming up next? Travel visa to Vietnam till end-2022
The forces of economy and the Vietnamese legendary opportunist sense should prevail. The winds of opening and new development for Vietnam are blowing strong: the perfect storm is forming due to many economic and geopolitical reasons.
The trend for re-opening will be strong, maybe accompanied by structural changes. But surely for the time being trial and errors immigration and travel unpredictable decisions lookalike stop & go and reverse at times. All of which long-timers observers are used to. In the words of late French president: “it is urgent not to hurry”
More types of Visas needed
When talking about structural changes, the 2 most obvious and urgent should be:
- More types of visa issuance for: retirees (the viet kieus are supposed to be welcome back to their roots homeland), the mid-upper scarce talents like experienced tech workers and digital nomads, entrepreneurial workers up to 2-year visa without existing company invitation…
- More use of technology AI usage by immigration to clamp down on criminal immigrants: computerization exists since 2015 but still largely unused.
e-Visa is the future or No future
E-visa should be in for some time as a start for transparency and signaling the stamp holde and its helpers that it is time to think about ‘business pivoting’. But more importantly, to the world that Vietnam continues its integration to the world with transparency and reliability as a global partner.
As I write, complaints are mounting on the 3-working-day issuance lead time, late deliveries, 25$ paid but denied visa, photo uploads and payment check-out issues.
Count on some stop-go-reverse to fight the trend trying to dry-out the coffee-money distribution.
Transparency is the way forward, with its collateral victims
Vietnam with a 100 Mio population, has a view to continuous growth out of poverty, to level up with Asean neighboring countries, heer is the ranking 2020:
- #4 Singapore GDP is US$98,526/person
- #14 Brunei GDP is US$65,662/person (oil & gas)
- #75 Malaysia GDP is US$27,887/person
- #98 Thailand GDP is US$18,236/person
- #126 Indonesia GDP is US$12,074/person
- #136 Vietnam GDP is US$8,651/person
- #97 China GDP is 18,300$/person
You can read here on the latest Vietnam government Visa policy since 31-mar-2022 or contact editor@risnkinAsia.com