Sharing a 1,200 km border with China, where COVID-19 was first detected, Vietnam was one of the very first countries to close its borders to its neighboring country as soon as 1st February 2020 before suspending altogether the entry on its territory to all foreign arrivals as of 22 March 2020.
For Vietnamese nationals, entry in Vietnam has mostly been channeled through repatriation flights arranged by Vietnamese embassies and the national carrier Vietnam Airlines.
Contrary to China, Vietnam’s Government has kept the door open to foreign business people by continuously allowing the entry on its territory, besides to Diplomats and officials, to investors, managers, executives, technical experts and workers and their relatives (hereinafter collectively referred to as the “Experts”), as well as international students, humanitarian workers and individuals entering Vietnam for emergency purposes (hereinafter collectively referred to as “Qualified Individuals”), have still been able to enter Vietnam provided that they meet the requisites and follow the procedure reported in this fourth edition “Entry in Vietnam of Foreign Business People” of our series of publications “C-19 Chronicles Life & Business in Vietnam”.
To date, Official Letter 5322/CV/BCD issued by the National Steering Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control on 5 July 2021 (the “Official Letter 5322”) provides guidance in the matter.
REQUIREMENTS TO QUALIFY AS AN EXPERT
Per Official Letter 5322, categories of foreign individuals qualifying as Experts include as follows:
1 - COMPETENT AUTHORITIES
Official Letter 5322 provides the competent authorities for entry approval, as follows:
The Provincial People’s Committee, in coordination with the local Labour Department/ Health Department, shall process the entry approval requests of the Qualified Individuals.
The Working Group of 5 Ministries (Foreign Affairs, Health, Public Security, National Defense, Transport) shall process the entry approval requests of individuals under diplomatic mission, foreign consular officers, inter-governmental representative officers and their families.
2 - PROCEDURE
In Ho Chi Minh City, the procedure for Qualified Individuals to obtain the entry approval is as follows:
For relatives accompanying Experts, documents evidencing the relationship shall be required, such as birth certificate, household book, marriage certificate etc.
For certain cities/provinces, it is required to further obtain the Health Department’s written approval and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Vietnam’s confirmation on the transport and quarantine plan at a designated hotel. The application must include the quarantine plan, written commitment by the sponsoring company on COVID-19 protocols, including testing requirements and health insurance along with the written approval of the provincial people’s committee and the Immigration Department.
In addition, Official Dispatch No. 3949/CV-BCD issued on 24 July 2020 provides that Experts entering Vietnam have to comply with the following requirements:
Foreign workers will have to test negative for COVID-19 72 hours before entering Vietnam using a real-time PCR test done at a testing center approved by their government or at test centers approved by the World Health Organization (WHO); and
Foreign workers should have international health insurance, or their sponsor will be required to pay for treatment in case they turn infected with COVID-19.
All foreign arrivals are subject to a mandatory quarantine in a centralized government facility or a designated hotel (at their own cost).
On 4 August 2021, the Ministry of Health issued Official Letter 6288/BYT-MT ("Official Letter 6288"), reducing the mandatory quarantine period from 14 to 7 days for fully vaccinated individuals and those having recovered from the virus within 6 months.
Foreign arrivals must test negative to COVID-19 twice during the mandatory quarantine period to be discharged. Upon completion of the mandatory quarantine, a certificate is issued that may be requested by Vietnamese officials. In principle, a further 7 days quarantine at a place of residence is also required.
Pursuant to Official Letter 2974/LS-PL issued on 6 August 2021 (“Official Letter 2974”) and Official Letter 695/CH-LS-P issued on 13 August 2021 (“Official Letter 695”) issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to provide further guidelines on Official letter 6288, the vaccination certificates of 72 countries are directly accepted in Vietnam without requiring legalization.
PROSPECTS FOR A NEW NORMAL IN FOREIGN ARRIVALS
In spite of the procedure to allow foreign Qualified Individuals discussed above, the closure of Vietnam’s borders has gravely impacted the operation of foreign-invested companies and of proposed new greenfield investments (but also the life of foreign investors, workers and their families), and has taken a heavy toll on the transport, tourism and F&B sectors as well.
As of today, there are only around 30 foreign airlines from Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, Middle East and France operating flights to transport Qualified Individuals and cargo to and from Vietnam, according to the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam (CAAV). In the first 10 months of 2021, foreign arrivals have dropped by about 80% compared to the pre-pandemic level of 2019, according to Vietnam News/ANN.
As Vietnam furthers its “living with the virus” policy, and aims to bring back foreign arrivals to its pre-pandemic levels, the Ministry of Transport has suggested to the Government a 2-phases phase plan to gradually resume international flights.
The first phase, starting 15 December 2021, would see the reopening of 9 additional routes including San Francisco or Los Angeles (the U.S.), Singapore, Bangkok (Thailand), Phnom Penh (Cambodia), Vientiane (Laos), Beijing (China), Tokyo (Japan), Seoul (South Korea), and Taipei (Taiwan).
The second phase would then see the reopening of 6 more routes by January 2022, comprising Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Hong Kong, Paris (France), Frankfurt (Germany), Sydney (Australia), and Moscow (Russia).
Besides Qualified Individuals, the reopening of those international flights would address the high demand for repatriation among Vietnamese citizens living abroad.
While the concerning Omicron variant may give rise to uncertainties, reasonable expectations remain that the procedure for entry will be streamlined, including the lift of the mandatory quarantine for fully vaccinated international passengers.