Mon, 12/08/2014 - 08:37 - 447 Views

The Center for Development Studies and the Faculty of Sociology, Social Work and Southeast Asian Studies of the Open University in Ho Chi Minh City organized a workshop on October 9, 2014. It was a scholarly discussion with the theme "The phenomenon of migration and migrants from a sociological perspective" presented by the two speakers: Mr. Pham Nhu Ho, MA and Ms. Nguyen Bao Thanh Nghi, PhD.

Overview of migration

Throughout the history of the world there has been an exodus of the population because of natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, volcanoes; for reasons of war or economics and people seeking new opportunities or wanting to live in a free more-open country. Migration is a common phenomenon that most countries are facing.

Generally speaking, since the development of science and technology, aircraft, large ocean-going ships and express trains, these modes of travel have been fast, safe and cheap transport that have facilitated more migration. Depending on the policies of individual countries, migrants have done so with ease or difficulty; an example of easy migration was when the US encouraged the immigration of Europeans to work in agriculture as farms also needed migrant workers to help with harvesting and raising cattle. Today, there are many appliances that save us time doing housework. However, many people still do not have more free time because the requirements of their jobs have increased; consequently, people in industrialized countries often hire immigrants from third-world countries to help work in their home or as care-givers such as hospital nurses, home-care aides for the elderly, the sick and the disabled. In general, migrant workers are often cheap, low-level workers who do not require official papers. The sending of migrant workers to other countries was often closely organized and it systematically followed the "lines" known as chain migration.

Internal migration in Vietnam

According to three recent general population censuses in Vietnam in 1989, 1999 and 2009, there were many areas of migration. However, this reminds us of the history of Vietnam a thousand years ago when the Vietnamese people often moved to the South; those migration flows shaped Vietnam. Therefore, the study of migration requires a type of interdisciplinary research in the sectors such as psychology, human geography, sociology, demography, ethnography. In his presentation, the guest speaker presented only the theoretical sociology dimension of migration and not the data because he wanted to introduce a new perspective on a number of issues about the migration flows in Vietnam.

According to the classical theory of a population affected by economic sciences, migration flows were seen as an operative result of the labor market rules. Laborers from an area of low demand for them moved to where the demand for labor was high. The advantage of this methodology was that it helped us to take a macro view to see the changes and trends over time in different regions. It formed the foundation for the estimations of development based on mathematical formulas to facilitate the policymakers.

However, this method had a drawback in that it usually was based on the law that one factor will inevitably affect the other and, therefore, it ignored the subject of migration flow. If one only spoke about numbers then one neglects the migrants and their problems; these are important issues that are in need of being studied.

For example, what was the motivation for people to decide to leave, how did they travel, where did they go, how did they integrate with the new environment? Another disadvantage was that the research methodology under this classical theory was not capable of studying the kinds and methods of migration, while the sociological research methodology has built-in methods to access migration flow.

Gary Becker, an economist (Nobel Prize 1992), studied at the individual level applying the theory of "rational choice" based on the principle that: human behaviors are always based on the calculation between costs and benefits. Another economist, Michael Todaro studied the dynamics of migration. The downside of his research was that he treated a person as a unit, a nuclear totally isolated in society. In fact, the decision to migrate was not individual, it was a family strategy.

As forementioned we have seen different approaches on migration. For a sociological approach, the image of migrants was the image that they built for themselves. This image was also affected by many different factors from immigrant communities. There was a correlation between the place of origin and destination areas. When migrating to urban areas people of the same kinship or village often regrouped and established their own area of urban groups. These areas may have attained urban social acceptance or may have been be socially marginalized. In the early 20th century two sociologists, William Thomas and Florian Znaniecki, wrote the "The Polish Peasant in Europe and America". It was a study on the journey of a migrant, a network of social relationships, by asking the migrant to reiterate their sentiments about their advantages and disadvantages during the migration process.

According to the study "Gender, Migration and Remittances" by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in 2004, internal migration in Vietnam tended to be feminized. It can be explained by purely economic factors, such as that manufacturing plants needed more female workers than males; the economy in metropolitan areas had a nature of duality with both formal and informal sectors which was a very difficult assignment. In particular, the informal sector with suitable jobs for women, such as street vendors, could help women living in urban areas to save money to send home.


Previously, the Open University in Ho Chi Minh City (Thai Thi Ngoc Du, Nguyen Xuan Nghia) was a pioneer in a study of migration, which was titled "Female migrant rural workers in the informal sector in Ho Chi Minh City". The study indicated that women faced better conditions to integrate into a new environment. During modernization and the development of production, one would think that the informal sector would shrink, however, this region had in fact deepened.

International migration

In international migration, the country of residence is where excess labor or workers earn less income and there are duplicate efforts. Laborers migrating from poor countries to rich countries is often referred to as the theory of attraction and repulsion of forces or the theory of rational choice. This migration benefits low-wage immigrants for jobs that local people have no interest in doing.

There were natural and social media implications for the image of immigrants. At the time of economic growth the image of migrant workers was pictured as an increasing cultural diversity and national regions. However, during an economic recession immigrants were considered thieves.

For the emigration problem of the “brain drain” there are so many state policies to attract the gray matter (brain gain) and the benefits there of are paid to repatriated workers. In addition, today there is the phenomenon of cyclic gray matter or “brain circulation” with transnational workers. They continue somewhat to keep in touch with the country they were working for and contribute to the gray matter of four or five different countries.

Network theory. Those same countries tend to focus on one industry (an ethnic niche) if they are strong enough. For example in California, 90% of employees in the manicure profession and 50% of the owners of nail salons are Vietnamese. The reason is that these immigrants are not proficient in English, therefore, Vietnamese have access to job advertisements (job ads) posting recruitment in Vietnamese newspapers published overseas, and because nail-salon owners are Vietnamese.

This craft is easy to learn and tuition is inexpensive. In only a few months those interested can learn the craft and are able to work. Graduation exams in skilled manicuring is also held in Vietnamese. This has inadvertently created an exclusive closed system (ethnic monopoly). Consequently, people of other races are hardly able to squeeze into these positions because they cannot read the job advertisements. At this time two possibilities may happen; this profession will be raised to an international level (similar to the case of Jewish immigrants to the retail and professional services), or fierce competition will happen between other people in this industry, and the occupation of Vietnamese manicuring will fall in the second case. The year 1970-1980 was the hey-day of the professional manicure when a nail set cost 80 USD, however, currently it is only 30 USD due in part to an influx of other manicurists plus and overabundance of the industry.

Today there is a duality of the economy in megacities (Megapolis). In addition to a formal economy, there is an informal economy. Previously, when there was a large disaster, often the husband migrated to southern Vietnam first and then went back to pick up his wife and children whom he had left behind.

Today, women are often migrants working in more trades in an informal economy, such as: nurses caring for patients at home or working as bar dancers; therefore, we should perhaps call it the feminization of migration. The migrants’ savings are sent home; their remittances are as a source of water that emigrants always expect to receive.


Pham Nhu Ho: Graduated with a Master in Sociology at the Sorbonne (Paris) in 1969. He taught for many years at universities in the country and internationally as Sorbonne, University of Letters in Saigon, Van Hanh University, General University of Ho Chi Minh City, Open University of Ho Chi Minh City. He also has research experience in projects with UNESCO.


Nguyen Bao Thanh Nghi: Graduated with a PhD in Sociology at the University of Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Her research on international migration, integration of migrants, especially the overseas Vietnamese community in the United States, social development, gender and family. Research on overseas Vietnamese manicure profession in the US and has published a leading array of international migration International Migration Reviews, and re- published in the Contemporary Asian America: A Multidisciplinary Reader-publisher at the New York University Press. Currently she is Head of the Faculty of Sociology-Social Work-Southeast Asia Studies, Open University at Ho Chi Minh City.


Reported by Le Thi Hanh