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College Graduates in Laos Face Bleak Job Prospects Amid Pandemic Shutdowns

Source: RFA

Recent college graduates in Laos are having trouble finding work, as businesses continue to shut down in the face of economic difficulties tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, sources in the country say.

The landlocked country of 7.2 million people depends heavily on tourism from China and other neighboring countries and the earnings of thousands of migrant Lao workers in Thailand – sources of income that have been choked off by border and business closures imposed to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

One former student, a graduate in business and economics at the National University of Laos, said he and 30 classmates from the same department are still unemployed after graduating in June.

“We’re looking for jobs and are sending resumes to many financial and marketing businesses around the country, but are getting no response,” the former student told RFA in an interview, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Most businesses in tourism and other service sectors are closed now because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and if any do need new workers, they look for those who have experience,” he said.

The graduate said he had recently thought about looking for work in Thailand, but learned that conditions there are even more difficult now because of the rapid spread of COVID.

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Another young Lao man, who graduated last year from an art school in the capital Vientiane, said he has applied at several schools for a teaching job, ‘”but the problem is that most schools are still closed.”

“I’ve been jobless since I graduated, and to survive I opened a small convenience store in my neighborhood, but I make only around two or three dollars a day,” he said.

“I sometimes think about looking for work in Japan or South Korea, but I would have to pay a lot of money to learn the language, to pay an employment agency, and to get proper documentation, and I can’t afford all that,” he said.

Many college graduates now can earn a living only by selling cosmetics online, said another former student, a recent graduate of a private college in Vientiane.

“My friends and I have been jobless and looking for work since the start of the pandemic, and almost all of us are now selling stuff like makeup online,” she said.

“I and 70 others graduated last year, but only 10 of us got jobs at hospitals and health centers,” added a graduate from a nursing school in Champassak province in southern Laos.

“The rest are now volunteering at hospitals in the province fighting COVID-19, and as volunteers we get paid only $130 each month,” she said.

“Most hospitals don’t have the financial resources to hire more nurses. We’re depressed, but we’re still hoping we’ll get hired someday in the future.”

Businesses go bankrupt

With fewer tourists coming into Laos and businesses continuing to close, unemployment will remain a constant problem in the country, an economics professor at the National University of Laos said.

“For example, after two outbreaks of the COVID-19 pandemic, the popular tourist town Vang Vieng has become a ghost town,” said the professor, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid trouble with authorities in the one-party state.

“All the businesses have gone bankrupt there, and no one is hiring,” he said.

The professor added that most of his students who graduated this year and last are still jobless.

“All they can do is sell beauty products online because the businesses in tourism like hotels, restaurants, and airlines have all been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s very hard looking for a job right now,” he said.

Around 10,000 university students graduate each year in Laos, according to the country’s Ministry of Education and Sports.

High school graduates also unemployed

Lao high school students are also having trouble finding work, some recent graduates said.

“I just graduated from high school two months ago, and it’s hard to find a job right now,” said an 18-year-old man in Khammouane province in central Laos.

“I saw some postings on social media about job openings in the capital Vientiane where some factories are open, but there are no jobs at all in my province,” he said.

“Yes, it’s difficult to get a job now because of COVID-19,” agreed a recent high school graduate in Pakse, in the southern Lao province of Champassak, adding, “Most restaurants and stores are closed.”

“There are some jobs at the factories, but they only pay about $130 to $175 a month. That’s not enough under current living conditions,” he said.

A high school graduate from central Laos’ Borikhamxay province looking since last year for factory work in Vientiane said that even these jobs are hard to find, however.

“I’ve applied for jobs at factories in the capital Vientiane, but so far I’ve had no offers,” he said.

“If this pandemic continues much longer, our jobless youth could be in trouble, and some might become involved in criminal activities,” a social worker said.

‘Anybody can apply’

Speaking to RFA at the beginning of August, an official at the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare said his department had posted more than 6,000 job openings on social media.

“Most of them are jobs at garment and pharmaceutical factories for which anybody can apply, and they’ll pay from 1.1 million kip [$110] and up a month,” he said.

Thai labor officials meeting virtually with Lao counterparts on July 30 said that around 246,750 Lao workers had returned to Laos from Thailand since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. 

A week later, the Lao Minister for Labor and Social Welfare reported that up to 100,000 people in Laos had lost their jobs during that same time.

On Thursday, the Lao National Taskforce Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control reported one new death from COVID during the last 24 hours, bringing the number of total deaths now to nine and confirmed cases to 9,363.