The Orderly Departure Program was instituted by the communist government of Vietnam in cooperation with the United Nations to ease the plight of refugees attempting to leave Southeast Asia on small boats. Through the program, about 500,000 Vietnamese immigrated to North America.
After the communist victory ended the Vietnam War in early 1975, tens of thousands of Vietnamese people wanted to escape from the newly reunited country’s
After intense negotiations, Vietnam and the UNHCR signed a memorandum of understanding on May 30, 1979. The agreement established the Orderly Departure Program (ODP) for Vietnamese citizens requesting to emigrate from Vietnam to Western countries. The United States agreed to accept a majority of the emigrants.
Young Vietnamese refugees, who were relocated to the Philippines after the closure of refugee camps in Thailand, staging a demonstration at the U.S. embassy in Manila in September, 1996, urging the U.S. government to resettle them in the United States, as they believed it had promised to do.
The program got off to a slow start. In January 1980, the ODP opened its offices in Bangkok, Thailand. From there, ODP missions went to Ho Chi Minh City–as Saigon had been renamed by the Vietnamese government–to interview potential immigrants and process their departures. However, immediately after U.S. president
After U.S.-Vietnamese relations improved with the lifting of a U.S. trade embargo against Vietnam in early 1994, the two countries decided to close registration for the ODP on September 14, 1994. In 1999, the ODP office in Bangkok shut its doors and the remaining work was handled by the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Section at the U.S. consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. On November 15, 2005, the United States and Vietnam agreed to allow the last Vietnamese who had been eligible to emigrate to the United States under the program but had missed the 1994 deadline for registration to do so.
In all, about 500,000 Vietnamese immigrated to the United States under the ODP. Most of these people either had worked with Americans during the Vietnam War or were family members of people who had. Others were relatives of Vietnamese already living in the United States. While eventually reducing the numbers of desperate boat people, the ODP contributed substantially to Vietnamese immigration to America.
In American popular culture, the ODP was immortalized in the musical
Kumin, Julie. “Orderly Departure from Vietnam: Cold War Anomaly or Humanitarian Innovation?” Refugee Survey Quarterly 27, no. 1 (2008): 104-117. Nguyen, Kien. The Unwanted. Boston: Back Bay Books, 2001. U.S. General Accounting Office. Refugee Program: The Orderly Departure Program from Vietnam. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1990.
Amerasian Homecoming Act of 1987