The ILO TRIANGLE in ASEAN is a partnership between the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the Global Affairs Canada (GAC), and the International Labour Organization (ILO). TRIANGLE in ASEAN delivers technical assistance and support with the overall goal of maximizing the contribution of labour migration to equitable, inclusive and stable growth in ASEAN.

Programme objectives

TRIANGLE in ASEAN has the overall goal of maximizing the contribution of labour migration to equitable, inclusive and stable growth in ASEAN. It builds on the activities, relationships and processes established under previous phases of the programme.

Programme outcomes

  • Protection: Migrant workers are better protected by labour migration governance frameworks;
  • Development: Policies and programmes harness the potential of women and men migrant workers to contribute to economic and social development and
  • Mobility: Labour mobility systems are gender-responsive and increase the efficiency of labour markets in the ASEAN region.

Labour migration

There are approximately 540,000 Vietnamese migrant workers currently overseas. Most are young men and women from rural areas who obtain low-skilled employment abroad in the manufacturing, construction, fishing, agriculture, domestic work, and service industries. A total of 142,860 workers went abroad through formal channels in 2018, 35 per cent were women (Department of Overseas Labour, Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, 2019).

Migrant workers make a significant contribution to the economic development of Viet Nam through remittances, providing a major source of foreign exchange income. In 2017, the World Bank estimated that approximately US$13.8 billion was sent home by Vietnamese migrants. This figure constitutes over six per cent of Viet Nam’s GDP, placing the economic importance of its remittances second only to the Philippines within Southeast Asia (World Bank, 2018).

The main destination countries for Vietnamese workers have traditionally been the more developed economies of East Asia, including Taiwan (China), South Korea, Malaysia, and Japan. However, in recent years, destinations have become increasingly diverse, including significant numbers of migrant workers to the Middle East, Northern Africa, Europe and middle income countries in Asia. A survey of over 23,000 migrants from Thanh Hoa and Ha Tinh provinces of Viet Nam found that Thailand had become the most common destination for these women and men, making use of overland routes through the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (ILO, 2015). These movements are almost entirely irregular, as the memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed between Viet Nam and Thailand in 2016 has yet to be implemented and permits only employment in the fishing and construction sectors, where a relatively small number of Vietnamese migrants are employed (ILO and IOM, 2017).

The Law on Contract Based Overseas Workers 2006 is the overarching framework governing international labour migration in Viet Nam. Despite this law, a sizeable number of Vietnamese migrant workers are employed irregularly outside the parameters of bilateral agreements and MOUs on labour migration, including in Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, China, Thailand, Angola, Russia and Cyprus. There has also been concern about the rising number of Vietnamese workers overstaying their visas and becoming irregular migrant workers in South Korea, Taiwan (China) and Malaysia. Irregular status increases vulnerability to exploitation and limits the channels available for seeking assistance. Irregular migration is punishable by fines and other sanctions in Viet Nam as well as in destination countries. The Law is currently undergoing review with changes anticipated.

The Vietnamese Government has developed geographically-targeted policies to encourage labour migration as a poverty reduction strategy. In 20 provinces, the residents of designated ‘poor districts’ are eligible to apply for subsidies to facilitate working overseas. The incentives include loans and financial assistance for language training, vocational skills training, health checks, and other services. While effective at increasing migration in these areas, there are concerns that these policies encourage the most vulnerable populations to migrate, including ethnic minorities with very limited education. It is likely that the number of migrant workers going abroad will continue to rise as the Government pursues its migration targets, supported by push factors of high rates of underemployment in many areas.

Although the emerging trend of more women migrating is viewed by some in Viet Nam as problematic, it appears likely to continue due to recent developments in bilateral cooperation with Malaysia and Saudi Arabia on deployment of domestic and care workers. Women’s migration into domestic work will be further affected by Taiwan (China) lifting a 2005 suspension on Vietnamese domestic workers, and the Thai Government allowing irregular Vietnamese domestic workers already in Thailand to register for work permits.

For further information please contact:

Ms Nguyen Thi Mai Thuy
National Programme Coordinator
ILO Country Office for Viet Nam
Tel.: +84 24 37340902 Ext 306
Email: thuy@ilo.org