||Asean Affairs 6 June 2013
Laos gets tough with immigrants
Some 3,900 illegal workers 'set for repatriation'
As many as 3,900 foreigners who are working illegally in Vientiane may be repatriated after failing to meet the criteria to obtain a work permit, a senior official has said.
Most of the workers are Chinese and Vietnamese, said the official, who is a member of the taskforce in charge of regulating illegal foreign workers in the capital.
"Under our laws, these workers should be repatriated. Their circumstances don't meet the criteria required to submit a request for a work permit," said the official, who asked to remain anonymous.
These immigrants work mainly as hawkers, nail cutters and painters, beauticians, scrap metal collectors and buyers, he said. Most entered Laos as tourists, but have subsequently found work here and stayed.
Many came to work for foreign-owned investment projects and had a legal work permit, but did not return home after the project finished and their documents expired.
The official said the Vientiane authorities are not in charge of repatriating workers directly, but are finalising a report to the Ministry of Home Affairs. A meeting is scheduled for the end of this month, at which the work Vientiane authorities have done to regulate the issue will be tabled. Officials from the provinces will also attend to hear about the lessons learnt in the capital.
Vientiane is piloting a scheme to regulate illegal foreign workers in collaboration with the relevant ministries before the government uses the information gained to launch a similar scheme in the provinces.
Since the taskforce took action a few months ago, more than 7,500 foreigners have been found to be working in the capital, of whom only 2,619 had work permits, according to data from the Vientiane Labour and Social Welfare Department.
Of the total, 985 foreigners were issued with temporary documents giving them a two-month grace period to obtain the necessary paperwork to apply for a work permit.
Citing the regulations, the official said those foreigners working in Laos without a work permit and other necessary documents will be given a permit if they have a workplace or employer who can certify their employment status.
In fact, talks on the issue have been ongoing since at least 2009, but the problem persists.
Observers have been concerned about the influx of foreigners who take up jobs as hawkers, vegetable sellers and beauticians, which are jobs that should be reserved for Lao people.
Recently, the government has taken more concrete steps to regulate the matter, despite the fact that many officials admit that such issues are complex and require time to be resolved.