Govt to legalise undocumented foreign workers

March 26, 2012

Officials of the Lao Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare.

The government plans to issue work permits for undocumented foreign workers so they can continue to work in Laos legally, according to a senior official from the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare.

Labour Management Department Director General Mr Khamkhan Phinsavanh said on Friday government has approved a plan to register undocumented foreign labourers working in Laos and grant them visas so they can work in the country legally.

“We expect to hold a press conference to announce the issuance of work permits to foreigners after June,” he told Vientiane Times on Thursday, adding that all work permits must be issued before the end of this year.

He made the comment after the Minister of Labour and Social Welfare issued a notice to urge businesses that employ undocumented foreign workers to report them to village or village cluster administration offices.

According to the notice, businesses and undocumented foreign workers who fail to register with the local authorities by March 31 will be fined in accordance with a prime ministerial decree.

Labour officials said the fine for a foreign labourer with no work permit would be about US$250. The worker would also have to pay a visa fee if their travel documents were invalid.

Mr Khamkhan said the ministry’s notice would enable the government to assemble data on the number of undocumented foreign labourers in Laos. According to labour management officials, an undocumented labourer must agree with the authorities to leave Laos within four years before receiving a work permit. The fee for a work permit is 80,000 kip (US$10) a month.

Work permit holders will have to pay income tax and pay the fee for an ID card, while employers of foreign labourers must provide them with health insurance.

Mr Khamkhan said the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare had already issued work permits to some 20,000 foreign workers, most of whom are Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai. The ministry estimates that about 200,000 foreigners are working in Laos without permits.

The government has difficulty managing the inflow of foreign workers as it is a sensitive issue. The government is afraid that strong reaction against undocumented foreign workers could damage relations between Laos and neighbouring countries.

Foreign workers consider Laos a good place to earn a living. There are plenty of job opportunities here due to the increasing demand for skilled workers amid rising foreign investment and strong economic growth.

Some Lao nationals complain about the number of foreign workers as they feel it denies them the chance to make a better living. However, the Asian Development Bank says labour migration will boost economic growth and urges the government to introduce concrete measures to regulate foreign workers, to ensure a just and healthy business climate among locals and foreigners.


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