The impact of COVID-19 on labor migration and the roles of small-scale farming in the pandemic in Vietnam

Drawing on in-depth interviews of migrant workers and their families in rural Vietnam, this study explores the
impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on transnational and rural-urban migration as well as the role of small-scale
farming in remittance-receiving households. Fieldwork was conducted in two provinces: the Son La province
where ethnic minority women and men work in urban construction sites, and the Ha Tinh province where young
men work in East Asia, such as Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Research findings show that in Son La, the
pandemic exacerbated the already precarious lives and livelihoods of labor migrants, especially women and
children. On the other hand, in Ha Tinh non-market-oriented small-scale farming and livestock production
support remittance-receiving households, thereby limiting the impact of reduced remittances from
transnational migration in the short-term. In both study sites, the pandemic did not change respondents’
perceptions of livelihood strategies. Labor migration remains the only available option for Son La farmers from
the poor households to provide for their families and the best option for many young men in Ha Tinh to gain
financial autonomy. These individuals are deeply affected by structural injustice in the commodification of the
labor market, which is inherently unequal and exploitative. Current agricultural development must offer diverse
options to accommodate the various needs of marginalized households that depend on off-farm incomes as well
as small-scale farming.