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Copyright © 1999-2013  Vietnam Venture Group, Inc. All rights reserved.  Updated March 3, 2004


[This article was prepared by Deacons Vietnam*. It first appeared in the August 2001 edition of Vietnam Economic Times and is re-published here with generous permission and grateful thanks.] 

To implement Ordinance 24/2000/PL-UBTVQH10 dated 28 April 2000 on Entry, Exit, and Residence of Foreigners in Vietnam (Ordinance 24), the Government issued Decree 21/ ND-CP (Decree 21) on 28 May 2001.  Ordinance 24 replaced the old Ordinance of 21 February 1992.  

Decree 21 systematizes and repeals completely a series of Decrees guiding the former Ordinance. Decree 21 applies to foreigners and Vietnamese having foreign passports other than those wishing to resettle in Vietnam. Decree 21 took effect from 28 June 2001. 

ENTRY INTO VIETNAM.  Generally, to enter Vietnam, a foreigner must obtain a visa from the competent Vietnamese agency (diplomatic or consular overseas offices) unless he is exempted in accordance with international treaties to which Vietnam is a party. 

Decree 21 stipulates two sets of procedures for visa issuance the first applies to foreigners entering Vietnam at the invitation of an organization or an individual in Vietnam, and the second applies to those who enter Vietnam without an invitation. 

Organizations which are allowed to invite foreigner to visit Vietnam are agencies of the State or the Communist Party, socio-economic organizations, and enterprises established under Vietnamese law, diplomatic representative offices, branches of foreign enterprises, representative offices of economic, cultural and professional foreign organizations, or other entities legally established in Vietnam. 

It is notable that Decree 21 clearly provides that foreigners holding permanent or temporary residency status of more than six months in Vietnam, and Vietnamese citizens temporarily resident if Vietnam are entitled to invite foreigners.  Previously under Decree 24, only Vietnamese citizens residing permanently in Vietnam could invite their overseas relatives. 

Foreigners are now also able to visit Vietnam without any invitation. The previous requirement that these people (including tourists) had to have a service company engaged to act as a local agent to liaise with the Immigration Department is now abolished. 

VALIDITY AND TYPES OF VISAS.  If a foreigner is invited to Vietnam to implement an investment project or a cooperation contract, or to work for a foreign entity in Vietnam, the foreigner and his family can obtain an entry visa for a maximum duration of twelve (12) months. For foreigners invited to visit Vietnam for other permitted purposes, the maximum duration of a visa is six (6) months. Thirty-day visa, either single or multiple entry, may still be obtained.

Decree 21 provides that there is now only one type of visa for both entry and exit. This should facilitate the granting of visa by the authorities.  Furthermore, multiple entry-exit visas are now available to invited foreigners. 

Upon expiry of a visa, a foreigner must obtain a new visa as opposed to renewing the existing visa as was permitted under the now repealed regulations.  This may be considered a set back as visa extensions involve a simpler procedure and are cheaper (US$ 10) than new visa issuance (US$ 100).  It is hoped that the visa fees will be reduced. 

HOW TO GET A VISA.   Foreigners wishing to enter the country without an invitation can now directly submit applications for visa to the relevant diplomatic office.  Individuals and organizations wishing to invite foreigner to Vietnam must send a written request to the Immigration Department under the Ministry of Public Security (formerly called the Ministry of the Interior). 

Unfortunately, in the case of a refusal to issue a visa, Decree 21 omits to regulate as to whether an applicant will be informed of the reasons for the refusal, or whether they can request a review of the decision. The streamlined procedures mean that a visa, if approved, can in principle be obtained within eight (8) days. 

Foreigners holding an invitation can obtain a visa upon arrival if they can produce evidence that their visit is for any of the following reasons: (i) attending the funeral of a relative, (ii) visiting a seriously-ill relative; (iii) coming from a country where a diplomatic office is not available; (iv) visiting under a program organized by an inte5rnational tour operator in Vietnam; (v) urgent technical support for programs or projects; (vi) first-aid services for seriously ill persons or accident victims; (vii) rescue of victims of natural disasters or epidemics in Vietnam; and (viii) other urgent reasons. 

RESIDENCE IN VIETNAM.   Decree 21 provides that the foreigner or the person/organization inviting him/her shall specify in the visa application the purpose and duration of the visit and his/her address in Vietnam. The new procedure is simpler than before where a separate registration of residence was required after the visa had been granted. 

A foreigner can be a permanent or temporary resident in Vietnam. A Permanent Resident Permit, Temporary Resident Permit, or a Certificate of Temporary Residence certifies his status.  Foreign invitees are normally granted Temporary Residence Permits. Otherwise, a foreigner entering Vietnam without an invitation will be issued a Certificate of Temporary Residence with 65eh same duration as stipulated in the visa. 

According to Ordinance 24, permanent residents and holders of Temporary Residence Permits with a duration of more than one year are exempt from the visa requirements.  Although this stipulation, if implemented, should considerably simplify the entry and exit procedures for foreigners, Decree 21 does not include any guidelines in this regard. Therefore the effect is unclear. 

EXISTS AND EXPULSION.  A foreigner may freely exit from Vietnam. However, exit from Vietnam may be delayed if the foreigner is subject to criminal investigation, has been convicted or prosecuted, or has been sanctioned to an administrative penalty to do with tax obligation, Etc.  Decree 21 further provides that the Courts at provincial level or the Minister of Public Security (Police) may allow a foreigner to exit Vietnam if the foreigner guarantees the fulfillment of his/her obligations.  How such a guarantee should be given is not stipulated in Decree 21. 

Generally, the Minister of Public Security (Police) has the power to expel foreigners for the purpose of national security, order, and safety o the society or if the foreigner seriously violates Vietnamese laws or commits an offence but is exempted from prosecution or criminal liability.  However, there is no guidance as to when such a power will be exercise by the Minister of Public Security. 

CONCLUSION.   Decree 21 may be seen as an effort by the Government to reduce cumbersome administrative procedures for entry and exit by foreigners, especially for those wishing to work or invest in Vietnam. This should contribute to a better business environment.  However, the actual effect of Decree 21 will depend significantly on the guiding circular(s) to be issued by the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

*Deacons Vietnam, a member of Deacons, is an Australasian law firm with offices throughout Asia. Active in Vietnam since 1989, the Deacons Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City offices are licensed as branches of a foreign law firm by the Ministry of Justice of Vietnam. Deacons Vietnam advises multinational clients on international and foreign law aspects of business in Vietnam, focusing on financing, technology transfer, import-export and distribution, intellectual property registration and enforcement and dispute resolution for joint ventures, 100% foreign-owned enterprises, contract manufacturing, business co-operation contracts and representative offices in the banking, manufacturing, property, energy and telecom sector.

Contact Information: Hanoi office charlene.ong@deaconslaw.com ; Ho Chi Minh office victoria.grimes@deaconslaw.com

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