"There's no better place to celebrate Tet (Lunar New Year) than in our homeland," an overseas Vietnamese who travels frequently between the US and Vietnam said.

Prof. Ha Ton Vinh, 68, who has studied, worked and taught in more than 90 countries, cannot hide his excitement when talking about Tet in Vietnam where he was born and grew up before he went abroad to study and work.

He is among the more than 700 overseas Vietnamese who gathered in Ho Chi Minh City on January 21 for an annual Tet meeting by the municipal administration. They are from all parts of the world.

Speaking at the meeting, Le Hoang Quan, Chairman of the municipal People's Committee, wished all Vietnamese and overseas Vietnamese a prosperous and happy Lunar New Year.

"Overseas Vietnamese are an integral part and a powerful resource for the country, and play a key role in the country's socio-economic development and strengthening ties with other countries," he said.

Government Resolution 36 on overseas Vietnamese affairs represented a breakthrough in creating conditions for overseas Vietnamese to make a contribution to the country in the last 10 years, he said.
More and more incentives and policies are being issued to attract them to invest in the country.

Administrative procedures have been cut and simplified, especially with regard to customs, immigration, investment registration, taxation, property, birth and marriage certificates, and adoption of children, he noted.

The number of overseas Vietnamese who have returned to the country to do business or visit has increased over the years. Last year some 1.2 million of them arrived, with 50-60 percent staying in the city.

Remittances to the locality hit a record 4.8 billion USD last year, an increase of 21 percent over the previous year and accounting for nearly half of the total sent to Vietnam.

In addition, more and more scientists and experts have returned to Vietnam for investment, research, and teaching at educational institutions.

They have invested in more than 2,500 businesses with a total registered capital of 35 trillion VND (1.66 billion USD). There are 122 foreign directed investment (FDI) projects belonging to them with a total investment of more than 260 million USD, according to the State Committee for Overseas Vietnamese.

Vinh told Vietnam News: "I am very proud to see the rapid changes in the country through the years. Yet there is still a big gap between the rich and the poor and many challenges still exist, which need more drastic measures and co-operation among all parts of the country to tackle.

"I believe that many overseas Vietnamese have a passion to come back to make contribution to the country. Thus the country needs to listen to them, consider their ideas and even accept new perspectives."

At the event, the city gave away the Prime Minister's certificates of merit to three individuals and its own to 19 individuals and nine companies and organisations for their contributions to the country's development.

Nguyen Tri Dung, Director of Minh Tran Manufacturing-Trade-Construction Company, one of the three individuals to get the Prime Minister's certificate of merit, said: "I am among the few people who have had the opportunity to celebrate Tet in my home country 39 times since I left Vietnam to study, live and work in Japan 46 years ago.

"I left the country when I was only 19 when many of my friends were still fighting in the war.
"Many of them sacrificed their lives for our country's independence. Therefore I must bear in mind the responsibility to contribute to my country in whatever way I can."

More than 4.5 million Vietnamese live in more than 100 nations and territories around the world, according to the State Committee for Overseas Vietnamese.-VNA