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Asean Affairs  29 December 2010

Laos struggles with influx of foreign workers

By  David Swartzentruber

AseanAffairs     29 December 2010

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In previous reports on Laos in Asean Analysis, we’ve discussed the “spheres of influence” contest being waged in countries in the Greater Mekong Subregion, namely, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, between the U.S. and China.

As part of those reports, we have detailed the influx of Chinese traders and citizens into certain areas of Laos, making then “Chinazation” enclaves. This development has apparently created some uneasiness and resentment in landlocked Laos with a population of only 6 million and Asean’s poorest country.

China has developed a casino at Boten, where the employees are Chinese and near Huay Xai, two special economic zones where China has administrative autonomy.

Recent news indicates that this uneasiness is causing the Laotian government to take action to register the 200-250,000 unregistered foreign nationals working in Laos.

Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Welfare Laoly Faiphengyoa said the ministry is paying close attention to resolving the issue foreign nationals working illegally in Laos.

“We plan to identify and register all foreign workers in Laos,” he told local media at a press conference held at the ministry to promote the achievements of the ministry over the past 35 years.

Local merchants complain that street hawkers impact their business by selling cheaper goods and services, with the low prices facilitated by not paying taxes.

Director General of the ministry's Labour Management Department Khamkhane Phinsavanh recommended that all foreign workers obtain the necessary documentation to legally work in Laos through the correct legal channels, but noted that only those with locally-needed skills would be granted work permits.

News reports did not indicate any specific nationalities but smaller Asean countries, especially Laos, must deal with the influx of Chinese investments and the strings attached, especially the influx of unskilled Chinese workers, when their own citizens could benefit from filling those jobs.

Paul A. Ebeling, Jnr

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