First of all, my apologies to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They were actually not responsible for my “notarized” diploma being turned down. It turns out that my “highly qualified” NEVER even took my masters degree to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). In fact, he has done absolutely nothing since I paid my deposit back in October, 2009. He had an assistant that came with me to pick up some documents but in essence, I did not need her.
Today I arrived to meet my service agent at his office at 8:45 AM for a 9 AM appointment. He did not show up and he staffed tried repeatedly to call him. He just disappeared. Then his assistant called my Vietnamese friend who in turn yelled at her. Thirty minutes later, she and I met my friend at the MFA (6 Alexandre Rhodes street in District 1). We entered the front office where you submit your documents and my friend and I both were surprised that she, the assistant, had no idea what to do. That is when we realized that the service agent never submitted my documents. Remember, yesterday he told me that the MFA refused to accept my document since it was not notarized by the US Consulate. It cost 160,000 VND to do this process, a little more if you forget to make a copy.
I submitted my forms after we made photo copies (remember to make a photocopy of your notarized degree outside the office). I submitted my diploma and passport. About 15 minutes later they called me up and a man gave me a form to fill up. Yes, they do speak English. I filled it out and gave it back to him. About 20-30 minutes later (it was busy today so come at 9 AM if you can) he gave me the receipt which told me when to pick up my diploma. They had accepted it. It was that easy and finally it was consularized.
Guys, I mean Americans here, the key to getting your diploma accepted is to remember the keyword here, consularization. I read the law here and my friend explained to me thoroughly which is why he was surprised my service agent could not do it. The law says that before you can get it consularized, you must first have your diploma notarized by a government authority in the US. Then after it is notarized, you then need to get an affidavit, notary or seal from the US Consulate (or Embassy). The US Consulate in Vietnam will only give an affidavit. After you get this, then you will take it to the MFA to get it consularized. Remember, the Vietnamese government consularizes it, not the US Consulate.
So in short, to get my diploma recognized, I first FedEx’d it to Indiana University. From there, Indiana University made two copies (you should make 10 if you can), sent it to Monroe County to start the process, then notarized it and sent it to the Secretary of State of Indiana. The Secretary of State then added their Gold Seal sticker to all of the original and copies and FedEx’d it back to me (be sure to include a completed bill form so they can send it back). This process took me 3 weeks total. It would have been shorter but the US was experiencing the holidays at that time. Total cost here was about $90 US which included two FedEx fees and about $6 US for Monroe County.
When I received my notarized documents, I took the original diploma and one notarized diploma to the US Consulate. They then attached a piece of paper and I had to write “I swear that this is a true copy”. After that, one of the Consuls came and I had to raise my right hand and swear an oath. They then signed, stamped all the documents and imprinted their seal on the documents. This costs about $35 US (plus a credit card fee of $35 US for me). From there I just needed to take these documents to the MFA and after two days, I could have picked them up.
My service agent did not do this. He just held on to them. I could have had my work permit before Tet if he had down his job. It turns out that many law firms do this on purpose. Foreigners give them a deposit, 5 million VND in my case, and then give excuses that seem real to their clients but actually never do the work. In the end, they keep the deposits since it is not their fault you DO NOT qualify for the work permit.
Now, Thursday I will pick up my translated documents from the MFA and I will submit the rest of my documents (criminal background check, CV, notarized diploma, health check, etc.) to the Department of Labor and Invalids. Within 7 working days I should have my work permit if there are no issues with my documents.
Lastly, you do not need to use a service to get your work permit. In fact, each time I had to go with the service agent’s assistants to get my documents. Technically I am just paying them to accompany me. If you do need an agent, the one who advised us today said to not pay more than 5 million VND. He also said, do not use a law firm, they cannot be trusted.
At the MFA, I met two Americans whose diplomas were turned down. The MFA said they needed the original copy with them which they did not have in Vietnam. They just had copies.
So in conclusion, today in one way was a successful day for me. I jumped the biggest hurdle. The next one will be Thursday when I drop all my documents off. If they give me a receipt, then I know I will get my work permit.
Oh the things you must do to stay in Vietnam…