The government granted more work permits to foreign workers last year amid rising demand for a larger labour force to drive national economic development, according to a report from the Lao National Economic Research Institute.
The institute released its latest economic outlook recently, showing that the government granted work permits to 5,663 foreign workers in 2013 as part of efforts to secure the manpower needed by an increasing number of foreign investment projects.
About 54 percent of the workers which received the work permits were from China. A further 26 percent were from Thailand, 5 percent were from Vietnam and the rest were from other countries, including Australia and South Korea.
Most of the imported workers are employed by foreign investment projects such as hydropower, dam construction and mining operations, all of which require high-level skills that are in short supply in Laos.
The government has revised the Labour Law, giving cabinet the power to allow the recruitment of more foreign workers if necessary, aiming to secure a sufficient supply of workers and satisfy the demands of various investment and development projects.
Under the previous law, a company was allowed to employ foreign workers equivalent to not more than 10 percent of the total workforce, aiming to prioritise jobs for Lao people.
But an insufficient supply of domestic workers forced the government to revise the law. A number of foreign companies said they were facing difficulties recruiting workers despite the high working-age population.
They urged the government to put measures in place to ensure they could find enough sufficiently skilled personnel to staff their business operations.
A garment factory in Vientiane Industry Park, some 21 kilometres outside the capital told Vientiane Times it needed more than 100 labourers.
The company searched for workers in the villages surrounding the factory but faced difficulties as there were not many young people living in the area.
A large number of Lao people seek employment in Thailand, which offers higher wages, causing a shortage in the supply of labourers willing to work in Laos.
Deputy Minister of Planning and Investment Mr Somchit Inthamith said the government was paying greater attention to education reform so it could supply skilled workers to meet the demands of foreign investment projects .
Observers have said the number of foreign workers in Laos was much higher than the figure quoted by the government and relaxed enforcement of the immigration law has created opportunities for foreign workers from neigbouring countries to work and do business in Laos.
They said the government should register all foreign workers so as they have data on exactly who is working or doing business in Laos, enabling better management and also facilitating the collection of income tax.
Source: Vientiane Times