Tu worked in Japan for two years but left when the devaluing yen lowered the value of his savings, which he intended to use back home in Vietnam.
He eventually set his eyes on Germany.
The reasons were quite simple: Germany was experiencing a lack of labor resources and was employing measures to attract more foreign workers, including more open visa policies and attractive salaries.
Foreign workers pick tomatoes on a farm in Australia.
As Germany’s labor minister Hubertus Heil told Financial Times earlier this year, the country would lack around 7 million workers by 2035 "if we don’t do something."
So Tu was there ready to answer the call. "This time I want to challenge myself in Europe," he said.
The 30-year-old man was one of many Vietnamese workers who left Japan after finding their earnings there not attractive anymore. It was essentially a double consequence of the dropping value of the yen and rising inflation.
Inflation in Japan hit a 40-year-high last October, and consequently, the price of everything from fuel to food rose, and many people could not afford essentials in their daily lives.
But rarely are workers who’ve returned home from Japan satisfied with their earnings in Vietnam either. Instead, they are now often opting to relocate to Europe or Australia, which are both taking bold government steps to compensate for their lack of workers.
Tu didn't allow any delays in his plan. He started learning German as soon as he returned to Vietnam from Japan.
He spent around eight hours a day studying the language and managed to acquire a German B1 certificate, then a German training visa, which allowed him to enroll in a three-year vocational training course in the country, as well as be eligible to stay for another two years after his course completion.
He relocated and became one among about 1.25 million foreigners with such a visa in Germany, according to data provided by the German Federal Statistical Office.
According to him, the agency he hired to assist him in his visa application procedure told him that they had assisted 100 Vietnamese people relocate to Germany this year, an increase from only around 20 last year.
After working in Germany for a while, Tu said that it wasn’t only the financial earnings, but also the benefits offered to migrant workers that are more attractive in Germany compared to Japan.
Similar to Germany, Australia is a destination that many Vietnamese workers are interested in. Businesses in Australia are receiving hundreds of applications from Vietnam and other Asian countries a day.
Duy Nam, a manager at a meat processing company in the Australian town of Broome, said he received hundreds of emails and text messages a day asking about the Australian visa application procedure. His own younger brother was contemplating immigrating to Australia as a migrant worker as well.
He attributed the growing popularity of Australia among Vietnamese workers to the shortage of domestic workers, which was partly caused by the country’s lockdown during the peak of the pandemic.
Now that the pandemic is under control, the Australian government is doing its best to attract foreign workers. It now grants the subclass 462 visa (also known as the Work and Holiday visa), which allows its holders to work during their stay in Australia, to up to 1,500 people a year. And the visa application procedure has shortened from a year to a couple of months or even weeks.
Lightening immigration policies is not the only recent boon for migrant workers in Australia. Workers’ average hourly rate in Australia was A$27 (around $19) before the lockdown, but rose to A$55 during the peak of the pandemic. Because of that, earning an attractive income of as much as A$10,000 a month became possible for Vietnamese migrant workers.
Compared to that, Vietnamese workers in Japan can only save "between VND12-16 million (around $507-$677) a month, compared to VND20-25 million before," said Tien Thanh, 24, initially planned to migrate to Japan and work as an electrical appliances technician, but was discouraged by his friends.
He then changed his mind and moved to Australia, which took him six months and four failed attempts to finally do.
After reaching the country, he started looking for jobs with the help of social media, and was offered work on a farm in northern Australia a week after arriving in the country.
"There are a total of around 200 people working in my farm, of which as many as 47 are Vietnamese."
Thanh is satisfied with his current monthly income in Australia. He earned the equivalent of VND24 million his first month, but after getting more familiar with the work, now he can earn more and save around VND70 million a month.
Based on his calculations, he’ll be able to pay back the VND300 million his family borrowed to help send him to Australia, in half a year, and then save enough money to get his own house in Vietnam after three years.
As attractive as the idea of working in Australia and European countries is, both Tu and Thanh warned those who are interested in it about the risk of being scammed.
Tu added that the German visa application procedure consists of many phases and requires a lot of documents, so applicants should be cautious if agencies they work with treat it lightly.
Still, those who managed to leave Japan and come to countries that offer more competitive rewards seem optimistic about their future.