IT had been more than 14 years since Le Van Minh was last in Saigon, but his homecoming was three days too late. Mr Minh, 31, had wanted to surprise his father, who put him on a refugee boat to Malaysia in 1981. Instead, he returned to discover his father had died just days earlier. Mr Minh is one of about 20,000 Vietnamese Americans returning to visit for Tet - the first such return since the lifting of the US trade embargo. 'These things are not supposed to happen at Tet,' he said. 'My mother told me I had to accept it, that we were just not meant to meet. Now I feel very strange to be here. I don't know how long I'll stay. 'My culture and lifestyle are American. It is my home. But my mother must live here. I couldn't put her in a California suburb. The trouble is, although there is really little for me here in terms of career and opportunity, I had forgotten just how beautiful my country is. The friends, family, food and smells have stirred something deep inside me.' His predicament is common among many of those returning to Vietnam. More than 160,000 returned last year to Ho Chi Minh City's Tan Son Nhut airport alone. Some young professionals settle quickly into jobs with foreign firms. Others, particularly those who fled as children or had ties with the old southern regime, feel uneasy about coming home, and plan to keep stays short. Many are low-level entrepreneurs, who are here to test the market at the request of the Government. It is desperate to make it as easy as possible for people to return, and the Viet Kieu (overseas Vietnamese) are able to invest in property more easily than foreigners. 'I see more and more of them but I always notice the Viet Kieu never want to buy,' said gold dealer Kim Thanh in a Cholon market. But the US$90 million (HK$693 million) investment from the 500,000 Vietnamese in the US and 1.5 million elsewhere is far outweighed by the US$700 million pumped into the economy by family remittances each year. At that rate, the Viet Kieu could provide a huge slice of the capital needed for the country's socio-economic stabilisation plan for 2000. But government reports state that investment is 'still far behind the capital and knowhow potential'. In addition, a large part of the remittances are spent on personal consumption, making individuals unable to establish any sizeable business and give a significant boost to the country's development. Le Van Loc, vice-chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City Committee for Overseas Vietnamese, said: 'The Viet Kieu are not especially rich, but they have very good skills and contacts with the West and can play a big part in rebuilding Vietnam. I know many are worried, but, no matter what their background is, we will welcome them. They must understand that. 'There will be no persecution. We are looking at the future, not the past,' he said.