The number of Vietnamese leaving abroad for work in the first nine months fell 59 percent year-on-year to just over 42,800, according to the overseas labor department.
Japan and Taiwan, the largest and second largest foreign markets for Vietnamese labor, saw the number of new workers go down nearly 49 percent and over 56 percent, respectively.
The plummeting figures reflect the difficulties labor export companies in Vietnam have faced this year.
Nguyen Viet Xuan, chairman of the Hanoi-based Viet Thang Corp, said his company has successfully sent just a few dozen workers to Japan, Taiwan and Romania since September, down 90 percent year-on-year.
Most of them were supposed to leave earlier, but unable to do so due to the pandemic, and the company was having trouble recruiting new candidates because people were reluctant to leave Vietnam with the Covid-19 situation remaining intense in many countries, he told local media.
The Laco Labour Cooperation Company Ltd in Hanoi has only sent 40 workers to Japan since September after a mostly inactive period from February to August. Vietnam recorded its first Covid-19 case at the end of January and the situation was contained by the end of August.
Although the Japanese market still has high demand for imported labor, the long process of acquiring health certificates in the pandemic context could be one of the reasons preventing candidates from going, said Laco CEO Nguyen Xuan Hung.
Before the pandemic, Japanese employers often traveled to Vietnam and conducted face to face interviews, but now the recruitment process has becomes more challenging as interviews have to be conducted online, he added.
Other recruiters have pointed out to the high costs of air travel as a factor that discourages workers from going.
The government’s labor programs are also facing difficulties in recruiting workers. The Department of Overseas Labor had recently extended its deadline for a nurse recruitment program to Japan by one month after failing to recruit the 240 candidates it needed.
The pandemic has forced companies to cut recruitment costs due to falling revenues. These companies traditionally need to pay a local agent VND20-30 million ($865-1300) per worker, but now they focus more on running ads on social media to approach workers directly.
Industry insiders do not expect a full recovery in the market anytime soon. Doan Mau Dien, chairman of the Vietnam Association of Manpower Supply (VAMAS), said that as the rising number of Covid-19 cases are being recorded in Europe and some countries have reimposed social distancing measures, it would take until at least the middle of next year for labor export activities to resume to pre-pandemic levels.
Last year, 147,387 Vietnamese left to work abroad, up 3.2 percent year-on-year, according to the overseas labor department.