Fewer immigrants live in the whole of Vietnam than in the borough of Westminster

I’m reminded on a pretty much daily basis that I’m a minority here in Vietnam. People double take at the sight of a caucasian walking or cycling past. One time I was unlocking my bike when someone walked past and glanced over at me, they walked on for a few steps more before scooting backwards and looking again to check that yes they really had just seen a white person. I’ve also had strangers ask to have their photo taken with me.

[I should make clear, this interest is almost always benign and that you generally don’t get harrassed by touts and the like the way you do in many other developing countries.]

The context for this is that according to UN figures just 1 in a 1000 residents in Vietnam were born in another country. They suggest that only Cuba has a lower share.

To put that in context, that’s 32 times smaller than the share of the global population that live outside their country of birth and 142 times smaller than the proportion of immigrants among the population back home in the UK.

Or put another way, there are probably about 90,000 foreign born residents in the whole of Vietnam (the 14th largest country in the world by population). That’s fewer than in the borough of Westminster in central London (which is only the 69th largest municipality in the UK, a country that is itself only two-thirds of the size of Vietnam).

This tallies with my experience. For example, to apply for my work permit I had to go to the ominously named ‘department for alien elements’ at the interior ministry. I followed the signs to the department and eventually wound up in a room that could easily be mistaken for a medium sized post office. A rather modest outfit to be dealing with immigration issues for an area that’s home to millions of people!

At the other end of the spectrum from Vietnam and Cuba is the Vatican City whose entire population is thought to come from elsewhere. That’s followed by various wealthy Gulf states and island territories.

Source: FiveThirtyEight

Caveat: the UN data comes with the warning that “[b]ecause the database is based on different sources, discrepancies between tabulations are inevitable”. My Vietnam/Westminister comparison is potentially rather dodgy because I’m comparing figures from two different datasets. Nonetheless, I don’t think anyone would seriously disagree with the proposition that the foreign born population of Vietnam is very low.

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