Laos to Increase Foreign Workers

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Oct. 17 – Laos is currently suffering from a shortage of skilled labor and, as a result, the Laotian Ministry of Labor has announced that the country needs to bring in at least 70,000 more foreign workers to support its current workforce. Laos has already brought in 20,000 foreign workers as of late, but it has recognized that this amount is by no means enough to handle the actual work requirements of the country.

“Workers in Laos need more training to equip them with the skills needed to keep pace with competition from its Southeast Asian neighbors eying the formation of a single market in two years,” said Laotian Labor Minister Onechanh Thammavong.

Laos is currently the third poorest country in the ASEAN organization. However, the country has recently seen a large amount of investment coming in from China, Thailand and Vietnam – which has helped boost the country’s economic growth by 8 percent in 2012.

Under Laotian law, 10 percent of the workforce of a company that operates within the country can be made up of unskilled foreign laborers. In addition, up to another 20 percent may be foreign technical specialists. However, generally, at least 70 percent of the workforce must be local hires. It is possible, however, to receive special permission to hire a greater number of foreign workers.

According to international news agency Radio Free Asia: “Foreign investors say they prefer to bring their own workers to Laos because the locals they hire can be undisciplined or unreliable, with many failing to show up for work when rice-planting season begins as they tend to their own fields instead.”

Other foreign companies have also blamed their reluctance to take on local hires on the poor skills training programs that are provided by the Lao government. As ASEAN aims to further liberalize the migration of workers within Southeast Asia, Minister Onechanh has stated that Laos will greatly expand and improve its skills training programs so that the country can be much more competitive once the ASEAN Economic Community goes into effect in 2015.

According to a senior adviser to the Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the industries that are experiencing large shortages of workers include the following: garment, processing, tourism, steel, furniture and construction.

According to the U.S. Department of State, currently a foreigner traveling to Laos must arrange to obtain their business visa prior to arrival.  The visa must be sponsored by an individual or a company that is located in Laos, and the sponsor must then contact the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and request a visa on the foreigner’s behalf in addition to offering a “guarantee.”  Once the request is approved, the MFA will send the forms to the relevant foreign embassy where the actual process of applying for the visa can continue.

Once in the country, a business visa can be extended for one month.

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