Overseas Vietnamese (Vietnamese: Người Việt hải ngoại, which literally means "Overseas Vietnamese") or Việt Kiều, a Sino-Vietnamese word (越僑) (meaning "Vietnamese sojourner") refers to Vietnamese people living outside of Vietnam in a diaspora and can be broadly classified into those who have existed outside Vietnam pre-Vietnam War, those who fled as refugees because of the Vietnam War, and the newer recent immigrants who grew up in the Post-War era. The largest community lives in the United States. Of the about 4.5 million Overseas Vietnamese, a majority of them left Vietnam as economic and political refugees after the 1975 capture of Saigon and the North Vietnamese takeover of pro-U.S. South Vietnam.
|4,500,000 (estimates) |
|Regions with significant populations|
|United States||>2,200,000 (2017)|
|Japan||371,755 (June 2019)|
|South Korea||~170,000 (2019)|
|Czech Republic||83,000 (2011)|
|United Arab Emirates||20,000|
|New Zealand||~7,600 (2019)|
|New Caledonia||2,506 (2014)|
The term "Việt Kiều" is a label used by people in Vietnam to refer to ethnic Vietnamese living outside the country, as opposed to the term Overseas Vietnamese, which may have politically charged undertones. An alternate label is "Người Việt sống nước ngoại", which means, "ethnic Vietnamese who live in foreign countries".
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Overseas Vietnamese can be generally divided into distinct categories:
- The first category consists of people who have been living in territories outside of Vietnam prior to 1975; they usually reside in neighboring countries, such as Cambodia, Laos, and China. During the French colonial era, many Vietnamese also migrated to France as students or workers. These people are not usually considered "Việt Kiều" by people residing in Vietnam.
- The second category, consisting of the vast majority of overseas Vietnamese, are Vietnamese who fled Vietnam as refugees, after the end of the Vietnam War, along with their descendants. They usually reside in countries such as those in North America, the European Union, Hong Kong, the Chinese provinces of Guangdong and Fujian, and Australia.
- The third category consists of Vietnamese working and studying in the former Soviet bloc who opted to stay there after the Soviet collapse. This group is found mainly in the European Union (particularly countries formerly aligned with the Soviet Union in the Warsaw Pact and/or Comecon) and the Russian Federation.
- The fourth category consists of economic migrants who work in regional Asian countries such as Taiwan and Japan. This includes Vietnamese brides who married men from Taiwan and South Korea through illegal marriage agencies. There is social tension, controversy and criticism about these marriage agencies and their likeness to human trafficking. Many Vietnamese women encounter violent abuse by their foreign husbands.
A 2014 report from the Associated Press said that "women make up at least two-thirds of workers who leave the country," and sometimes leave fathers behind to care for children. The report also said that "the total amount of remittances sent back from all Vietnamese workers overseas now exceeds $2 billion a year."
Around the world
In 2016 the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the Vietnamese American population to be 2,067,527. They tend to live in metropolitan areas in the West, especially in California and Texas. Significant areas where they are well represented include Orange County, California, San Jose, California, Houston, Texas, and Seattle, Washington. The group that left Vietnam after 1975 to escape the North Vietnam takeover are generally antagonistic towards the government of Vietnam.
In 2015, 30% of Vietnamese Americans had attained a bachelor's degree or higher. Specifically, 21% of Vietnamese Americans had attained a bachelor's degree (37% for U.S. born Vietnamese and 18% for Foreign born Vietnamese) and 8.9% had attained a Postgraduate degree (14% for U.S. born Vietnamese and 7% for Foreign born Vietnamese) compared to 19% Bachelor's degree attainment and 11% Postgraduate degree attainment among the American population in general.
Vietnamese constitute about 5% of the population of Cambodia, making them the largest ethnic minority. Vietnamese people began migrating to Cambodia as early as the 17th century. In 1863, when Cambodia became a French colony, many Vietnamese were brought to Cambodia by the French to work on plantations and occupy civil servant positions. During the Lon Nol Regime (1970–1975) and Pol Pot regime (1975–1979), many of the Vietnamese living in Cambodia were killed. Others were either repatriated or escaped to Vietnam or Thailand. During the ten-year Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia from 1979 until 1989 many of the Vietnamese who had previously lived in Cambodia returned. Along with them came friends and relatives. Also, many former South Vietnamese soldiers came to Cambodia fleeing persecution from the communist government.
Many living in Cambodia usually speak Vietnamese as their first language and have introduced the Cao Dai religion with 2 temples built in Cambodia. Many Cambodians learned Vietnamese as a result. They are concentrated in the Kratie and Takeo provinces of Cambodia, where there are villages predominately of ethnic Vietnamese.
Vietnamese people are also the top tourist in Cambodia, with 130,831, up 19 percent as of 2011.
The number of ethnic Vietnamese living in France is estimated to be over 300,000 as of 2014. The Vietnamese population in France had already been well-established pre-Vietnam War. France had by far the largest overseas Vietnamese population outside Asia until the 1980s, when a high number of Vietnam War refugees resettled in the United States. France was the first Western country to where Vietnamese migrants settled due to the colonization of Vietnam by France that began in the late 1850s. During the colonial period, there was a significant representation of Vietnamese students in France, as well as professional and blue-collar workers, with many settling permanently.
A number of Vietnamese loyal to the colonial government and Vietnamese married to French colonists emigrated to France following Vietnam's independence through the Geneva Accords in 1954. During the Vietnam War, a significant number of students and those involved in commerce from South Vietnam continued to arrive in France. However, the largest influx of Vietnamese people arrived in France as refugees after the Fall of Saigon and end of the Vietnam War in 1975. Vietnamese refugees who settled in France usually had higher levels of education and affluence than the Vietnamese refugees who settled in North America, Australia, and the rest of Europe, likely due to cultural familiarity with French culture and that many affluent Vietnamese families had already settled in France.
Most Vietnamese in France live in Paris and the surrounding Île-de-France area, but a sizeable number also reside in the major urban centers in the south-east of the country, primarily Marseille and Lyon, as well as Toulouse. Earlier Vietnamese migrants also settled in the cities of Lille and Bordeaux. In contrast to their counterparts in the English-speaking world, the Vietnamese in France have a higher degree of assimilation, due to cultural, historical, and linguistic knowledge of the host country, as well as there being higher numbers of Vietnamese-Vietnamese, as opposed to the Vietnamese-Chinese, who are not as in sync with European-esque cultures.
The community is still strongly attached to its homeland while being well integrated in the French society. The generation of Vietnamese refugees continues to hold on to traditional values. The later generations of French-born Vietnamese strongly identify with the French culture rather than Vietnamese, as most were raised and brought up in the French system rather than the Vietnamese one. French media and politicians generally view the Vietnamese community as a "model minority", in part because they are represented as having a high degree of integration within the French society as well as having high economic and academic success. Furthermore, Vietnamese in France on average have a high level of educational attainment and success, a legacy dating back to the colonial era when affluent families and those with connections to the French colonial government sent their children to France to study.
- The pro-communist camp, the larger and older of the two, consists mainly of students, workers, and long-established exiles who were present before 1975.
- The smaller anti-communist camp consists of students from the south and the middle class, most of which fled Vietnam after 1975.
This division in the community has been present since the 1950s, when some Vietnamese students and workers in France supported and praised the Communist Vietminh's policies back home, while Vietnamese loyal to various non-communist governments and fled to France were largely anti-communist. This political rift remained minor until the Fall of Saigon in 1975, when staunchly anti-communist refugees from South Vietnam arrived and established community networks and institutions. The two camps have contradictory political goals and ideologies and members of one group rarely interact with members of the other group. Such political divisions have prevented the Vietnamese in France from forming a strong, unified community in their host nation, as their counterparts have in North America and Australia.
Vietnamese people in Australia constitute one of the largest ethnic groups in Australia, with 294,798 people claiming Vietnamese ancestry at the 2016 census. First generation Vietnamese Australians who came as refugees varied widely in income and social class. Of those from the Vietnam War era, many Vietnamese Australians are white collar professionals, while others work primarily in blue-collar jobs. Australian-born Vietnamese tend to experience high levels of educational attainment and success. In 2001, the labour participation rate for Vietnamese refugees was 61%, about the same as that of Australian born residents (63%). Around three quarters of ethnic Vietnamese live in New South Wales (40.7%) and Victoria (36.8%).
According to the 2016 census, Canada has 240,615 people who identify as ethnically Vietnamese. The majority of Vietnamese people in Canada reside in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, with some having lived in Quebec before 1975. Vancouver is also another major destination for newly arrived Vietnamese immigrants since 1980, including Vietnamese of Chinese descent, with the city having a large Chinese population.
Vietnamese comprise the largest Asian ethnic group in Germany. As of 2011, there are about 137,000 people of Vietnamese descent in Germany. In western Germany, most Vietnamese arrived in the 1970s or 1980s as refugees from the Vietnam War. The comparatively larger Vietnamese community in eastern Germany traces its origins to assistance agreements between the East German and the North Vietnamese government. Under these agreements, guest workers from Vietnam were brought to East Germany, where they soon made up the largest immigrant group, and were provided with technical training. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, many stayed in Germany, although they often faced discrimination, especially in the early years following reunification.
As in France, the Vietnamese community is divided between anticommunists in the former West (including the former West Berlin) and pro-communists in the former East, although the difference runs along former border lines rather than being diffused as in France.
Most Vietnamese immigrants in the Czech Republic reside in Prague, where there is an enclave called "Sapa". Unlike Vietnamese immigrants in Western Europe and North America, these immigrants were usually communist cadres studying or working abroad who decided to stay after the collapse of communism in Central and Eastern Europe. The Vietnamese surname Nguyen is even listed as the most common of foreign surnames in the Czech Republic and is the 9th most common surname in the country overall. (It is worth noting that female and male forms of the same Czech surnames were counted separately, while the total number of Nguyens refers to both male and female bearers of the surname.) 
Vietnamese residing in the United Kingdom number around 55,000 people, which is in contrast to the trend of the UK tending to have the largest East and South East Asian diasporas in Europe. In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher agreed to take quotas of refugees and 12,000 boat people came to Britain The most established Vietnamese communities in Britain are in Hackney and other parts of London. There are also communities in Birmingham, Manchester and other major UK cities.
Around 50,000 Vietnamese live in Poland, mostly in big cities. They publish a number of newspapers, both pro- and anti-Communist. The first immigrants were Vietnamese students at Polish universities in the post-World War II era. These numbers increased slightly during the Vietnam War, when agreements between the communist Vietnamese and Polish governments allowed Vietnamese guest workers to receive industrial training in Poland. A large number of Vietnamese immigrants also arrived after 1989.
An estimated 14,000 ethnic Vietnamese reside in Belgium as of 2012. Similarly to the Vietnamese community in France, the Vietnamese Belgian community traces its roots to before the end of the Vietnam War. Beginning in the mid-1960s, Belgium became a popular alternative destination to France for South Vietnamese seeking higher education and career opportunities abroad. A much larger influx of Vietnamese arrived as refugees following the Fall of Saigon. After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, a small number of Vietnamese workers in former Soviet Bloc countries who were sponsored by the communist Vietnamese government also sought asylum in Belgium.
The Vietnamese Belgian population largely resides in and around the capital of Brussels or in the southern French-speaking Wallonia region, especially around the city of Liège. As in France, South Vietnamese refugees to Belgium were largely of higher social standing and integrated much easier into their host country's society than their peers who settled in North America, Australia and the rest of Europe due to better linguistic and cultural knowledge. The Vietnamese Belgian community is strongly attached to its counterpart community in France, with both communities largely achieving higher socioeconomic success in their host countries than other overseas Vietnamese populations.
Vietnamese people in Russia form the 72nd-largest ethnic minority community in Russia according to the 2002 census. The Census estimated their population at only 26,205 individuals, making them one of the smaller groups of Việt Kiều. However, unofficial estimates put their population as high as 100,000 to 150,000.
An estimated 21,700 ethnic Vietnamese live in Norway as of 2014, and the country has hosted a Vietnamese community since refugee arrivals after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. The Vietnamese are considered one of the best integrated non-western immigrant groups in Norway, with high rates of Norwegian citizenship among immigrants and success rates in education on par with those of ethnic Norwegians.
About 19,000 ethnic Vietnamese reside in the Netherlands according to a 2010 estimate. The community largely consists of South Vietnamese refugees who first arrived in 1978. A much smaller number of North Vietnamese workers also arrived from eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Under international agreements in 1980, Bulgaria, along with other Warsaw Pact members, accepted Vietnamese guest workers who were sponsored by the communist government into the country as a relatively cheaper manual labour workforce. At one point, over 35,000 Vietnamese people worked in Bulgaria between 1980 and 1991, and many Vietnamese students completed their higher education at various Bulgarian universities.
As of 2011, there were over 110,000 ethnic Vietnamese people in South Korea, making them the second largest minority group in the country. Vietnamese in South Korea consist mainly of migrant workers and women introduced to South Korean husbands through marriage agencies. In the 13th century, several thousand Vietnamese fled to Korea following the overthrow of the Vietnamese Lý Dynasty, where they were received by King Gojong of Goryeo.
The Fall of Saigon in 1975 at the end of the Vietnam War saw many Vietnamese refugees escaping by boats to Malaysia. The first refugee boat arrived in Malaysia were in May 1975, carrying 47 people. A refugee camp was established later at Pulau Bidong in August 1978 with the assistance of the United Nations, and became a major refugee processing center for Vietnamese seeking residency in other countries. While a very small number of Vietnamese refugees settled in Malaysia, the majority of Vietnamese in Malaysia consist of skilled and semi-skilled workers who arrived during the 1990s as economic cooperation between Vietnam and Malaysia increased.
Vietnamese form one of the largest foreign ethnic groups in Taiwan, with a resident population of around 200,000. Including students and migrant workers, the Vietnamese population in Taiwan is about 200,000. Vietnamese in Taiwan largely arrived as workers in the manufacturing industry or domestic helpers. There are also a large number of Vietnamese women married to Taiwanese men through international matchmaking services in Vietnam, despite the illegality of such services in the country.
Over 135,000 Vietnamese people resided in Japan at the end of 2014. In 2019, around 371,755 Vietnamese people lived in Japan, making it the third largest foreign community in the country. At least 190,000 are "skilled trainees" and this particular number is growing sharply. Vietnamese people first came to Japan as students beginning in the 20th century. However, the majority of the community is composed of refugees admitted in the late 1970s and early 1980s, as well as a smaller proportion of migrant laborers who began arriving in 1994.
As Vietnam and Laos are neighbors, there has been a long history of population migrations between the territories which make up the two respective countries. When Laos was a French protectorate during the first half of the 20th century, the French colonial administration brought many Vietnamese people to Laos to work as civil servants. This matter was the object of strenuous opposition by Laotian nationals, who in the 1930s made an unsuccessful attempt to replace the local government with Laotian civil servants.
The Vietnamese in China are known as the Gin ethnic group, and arrived in southeastern China beginning in the sixteenth century. They largely reside in the province of Guangxi and speak Vietnamese and a local variety of Cantonese.
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Vietnamese migration to Hong Kong began after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, when boat people took to the sea and began fleeing Vietnam in all directions. Those who landed in Hong Kong were placed in refugee camps until they could be resettled in a third country. Under the Hong Kong government's Comprehensive Plan of Action, newly arriving Vietnamese were classified as either political refugees or economic migrants. Those deemed to be economic migrants would be denied the opportunity for resettlement overseas.
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Many Vietnamese boat refugees who crossed the South China Sea landed in the Philippines after the fall of South Vietnam in 1975. These refugees established a community called Viet-Ville (French for "Viet-Town") in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. At the time, it became the centre of Vietnamese commerce and culture, complete with Vietnamese restaurants, shops, and Catholic churches and Buddhist temples. In the decades that followed however, the Vietnamese population dwindled greatly, with many having emigrated to the United States, Canada, Australia, or Western Europe. Viet-Ville today remains a popular destination for local tourists.
The number of Vietnamese people in Israel is estimated at 150–200. Most of them arrived between 1976 and 1979, when about 360 Vietnamese refugees arrived when Prime Minister Menachem Begin granted them political asylum. Most of them later left Israel, mainly for Europe or North America to reunite with their extended families. Many of the second generation descendants have assimilated into Israeli culture, marrying Israelis, speaking Hebrew and serving in the Israel Defense Forces. A minority choose to keep their culture alive by shunning intermarriage and speaking Vietnamese at home. Today, the majority of the community lives in the Gush Dan area in the center of Israel but also a few dozen Vietnamese-Israelis or Israelis of Vietnamese origin live in Haifa, Jerusalem and Ofakim.
Relations with Vietnam
Relations between overseas Vietnamese populations and the current government of Vietnam traditionally range between polarities of geniality and overt contempt. Generally, overseas Vietnamese residing in North America, Western Europe, and Australia (which represent the vast majority of overseas Vietnamese populations) are virulently opposed to the existing government of Vietnam. However, there is a smaller population of overseas Vietnamese residing in Europe (mainly in Central and East Europe) and Asia, most of whom have been sent for training in formerly communist countries. These populations generally maintain positive or more neutral, if not very friendly relations with the government. Many of these East European Vietnamese are from northern Vietnam, and usually have personal or familial affiliations with the communist regime  Those who left prior to the political exodus of 1975, largely residing in France, generally identify their sentiments as somewhere in between the two polarities.
The former South Vietnamese prime minister Nguyễn Cao Kỳ returned to Vietnam in 2004 and was generally positive about his experience. However, Ky's reconciliation was met with anger by most Overseas Vietnamese, who called him a traitor and a communist collaborator for reconciling and working with the current communist regime. Notable expatriate artists have returned to Vietnam to perform (many are met with scorn and boycott by the expatriate community itself after they have done so). Notably, the composer Pham Duy had returned to Ho Chi Minh City (referred to as Saigon by overseas Vietnamese and those living in Vietnam) to live the rest of his life there after living in Midway City, California since 1975. The government in Vietnam used less antagonistic rhetoric to describe those who left the country after 1975. According to the Vietnamese government, while in 1987 only 8,000 overseas Vietnamese returned to Vietnam for the purpose of visiting, that number jumped to 430,000 in 2004.
The government enacted laws to make it easier for overseas Vietnamese to do business in Vietnam, including those allowing them to own land. However, overseas Vietnamese still face discrimination while trying to do business there. The first company in Vietnam to be registered to an Overseas Vietnamese was Highlands Coffee, a successful chain of specialty coffee shops, in 1998.
In June 2007, Vietnamese president Nguyen Minh Triet visited the United States, one of his scheduled stops was within the vicinity Orange County, home of Little Saigon, the largest Vietnamese community outside of Vietnam. Details of his plans were not announced beforehand due to concerns of massive protests. Despite these efforts, a large crowd of anti-communist protest still occurred. Several thousand people protested in Washington, D.C. and Orange County during his visit.
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