Vietnam: A Desire To Buy Property In Their Homeland

2005

Dr Bao Duy Thai

Today, about 2.7 million Vietnamese live in more than 90 countries and territories throughout the world and the majority live in harmony, integrated with the communities in which they live. In spite of this, they continue to feel a need to maintain a connection with the country of their birth. In particular, as the economic and political prospects for Vietnam have undergone significant changes, in the areas of investment capital for development and the widening of commercial relations, the strength of the connection of overseas Vietnamese with their native land has grown. Many are now seeking to own property and land in Vietnam.

In fact, right from those years when the Vietnamese Government did not attach special importance to them, and had no special relations with them, a small number of overseas Vietnamese have been seeking to buy property in Vietnam. Their reasons for wanting to do so have varied. There are those who just want to make a living; those who want to invest; those who want to assist their parents; those who want to maintain contacts with relatives in their homeland; those who want to maintain cultural links for their children, and so on. Because they need to cope with uncertain legal recognition of their property ownership, the majority of these overseas Vietnamese who want a house and land have had to request relatives, friends, or investment companies, to use their names on the properties; and correspondingly, there are the not infrequent stories of unhappy and embarrassing outcomes. Nevertheless, the desire to buy real estate continues to grow. As the number of overseas Vietnamese wanting to have a working relationship with the homeland, and to 'return to their roots' continues to increase, this provides a not inconsiderable engine for development and capital investment in Vietnam. Quite apart from foreign investment input, there is now an appreciable flow of currency back into the country, estimated to be from 2.6 to more than 3.2 billion US dollars in 2003-2004.

A veritable salvo of decrees and decisions issued from the end of the year 2000 onwards have progressively opened up real estate opportunities for overseas Vietnamese. These include decrees such as Number 81 (effective from November 2001) - delineating 4 groups of overseas Vietnamese eligible to buy houses as a long-term investment. Those with rights to property and land are those who have made worthwhile contribution to the country, scholars and scientists working on a long-term basis and those with a need for permanency in Vietnam (returnees). In addition, there is Politbureau's Decree 36/NQ-TW concerning business with overseas Vietnamese (March 2002), and the Land Law (July 2004), providing clearer regulations concerning parties who can buy houses in the country. Being able to realise the dream of real estate ownership is still a rather remote possibility for many, despite the recent issuance by the Ministry of Construction of a draft change for Decree 81, adding two other categories of persons; that is, older people who get local government social insurance for retirement, and people who are continuous temporary residents in Vietnam for 3 months and more.

Have the new real estate laws and regulations really opened up new opportunities for overseas Vietnamese? Do overseas Vietnamese returning to home to Vietnam have an easy time in their quest in the light of these Government regulations? Or are these property rights only limited to some restricted areas, marked and reserved for particular overseas Vietnamese? A not inconsiderable difficulty for overseas Vietnamese buying real estate is the procedure for buying and selling in Vietnam. There is usually no mutual help by paying in instalments, as exists in the countries where they have permanent residency. Instead, immediate settlement (without financing from banks) is demanded. This difficulty will become much greater, particularly for those overseas Vietnamese of average financial capacity, when the recently instituted new frameworks for land prices have been published in various cities and provinces.

It is clear that overseas Vietnamese are increasingly interested in buying property in Vietnam. For those who have business relations and work commitments in Vietnam, their thinking can't escape the idea of the need 'to be content with one's lot' (ie, there is no success until I have work and a secure and sound place to live). Still, for those who want to maintain strands of connection with their homeland, as with retirees, or older people, then the idea of 'nowhere but my homeland' pervades. For the intellectuals among the overseas Vietnamese, who want to maintain an association with their homeland, being able to buy a house in Vietnam is one way of keeping the children in touch with, or returning them to, their roots and culture. In order for genuine overseas Vietnamese to be 'that section not alienated from the community of the Vietnamese nation' (as Decision 36 indicates, in section I.2) then it is necessary to have impetus and specificity and, furthermore, openness in policy concerning real estate, as the means to 'maintain very close connections with the land and homeland' (as Decision 36 indicates, in Section III.1). In particular, the law must expressly 'abolish complexity, prejudice and preferential treatment due to the past or to class considerations' (as asserted in section II.1 of Decision 36).

WATCHPOINT: Will the intention to replace Decision 81, which the Government is about to approve, create a ray of hope for overseas Vietnamese, concerning immediate rights to land ownership in the country of their birth? To what extent will the replacement law impact on the ability of the overseas Vietnamese from all over the world to contribute to the development picture in Vietnam?

 

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