Illegal labour migration to China rising in north Vietnam

Desperate to find jobs, an increasing number of residents from the northern mountain province of Cao Bang are illegally crossing the border to China, often to their own detriment, with worrying implications for small communities in the remote area.

illegal labour migration to china rising in north vietnam hinh 0
Officials of Ha Lang district in the northern province of Cao Bang talk to a resident about the risks of illegal border crossings. (Photo:

With 300km of border with China, six border gates, and hundreds of trails, transporting goods between Cao Bang province and the neighbouring country is easy, and so is the illegal crossing.

A family from An Lac commune’s Soc Son Dinh Village in Ha Lang district recently lost their son and breadwinner, Ly Van Cuong, who had chosen to work illegally in China hoping to earn more money.

Barely 10 days after he started working in a sugarcane factory, Cuong was struck by a metal bar at the factory and died, his mother Minh told the Nhan Dan (People’s) newspaper. His body was returned many days later, she added.

Cuong’s story is just one of the many unfortunate cases in the border province, where it is common for youngsters to enter China’s illegal labour market.

Vuong Thi Deo, a resident of Da Thong commune’s Lung Tan Village in Thong Nong district, survived an accident while working in China, but it left her severely handicapped. She cannot perform even basic tasks, and is completely dependent on her family.

Tham Thi Nghinh, also from Ha Lang district, is still reeling from the trauma she suffered. Her family and neighbours say she was initially held captive in China and eventually forced to return. The incident has left her in a permanent state of anxiety and paranoia, she suffers from memory loss, and avoids talking to strangers.

Crossing the border itself is dangerous, with the tracks passing through dense forests, and accidents and robberies are common. But that’s not where the danger ends. 

Having crossed over to China, Vietnamese citizens live at a risk as their rights are not protected owing to their illegal status. The result: many are forced to work very long hours, in almost slave-like conditions, while others are not paid. 

However, they can do little with no official work contracts, no unions, and no help from the Vietnamese embassy.

Authorities say that from 2012 to date, at least 10 residents of Cao Bang province who migrated illegally are known to have died at work.

Nguyen Ich Chanh, Chairman of the Bao Lac district People’s Committee, said that “insufficient job creation for people in border areas” is the main reason for this situation. 

Most illegal crossings take place during periods when there’s no work, such as after the harvest and before the new sowing season, as people need to make ends meet. 

Most people do manual work, such as harvesting sugarcane and other crops. And what keeps the illegal crossings going is the fact that locals can earn as much as VND300,000 (US$13) per day, considerably higher compared to what they get in Vietnam.

Other reasons, according to Chanh, are lack of awareness about the risks involved and shortage of staff to control border crossings. Complicated legal immigration procedures also add to the problem, he added.

Data compiled in 2016 by the Cao Bang Border Guard Command shows 18,017 residents illegally crossed the border to work in China, mostly from Phuc Hoa, Ha Lang and Trung Khanh districts, and the numbers are rising.

The provincial department of labour, invalids and social affairs has been urged to address the problem by setting up training classes and job fairs for locals. The department has also been asked to provide preferential loans for labourers who return from China  to help them make a living.

Authorities say they are dealing strictly with agents who smuggle people across the border. In the future, they will also review administrative procedures concerning migrant labour to make it legal and more accessible to local residents.


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