Labour migration

Precarious pathways: Migration patterns and service needs of Lao migrant workers

New research sheds light on the key issues faced by Lao migrant workers and outlines measures to help ensure they can migrate more safely and obtain decent work.

Labour migration governance in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic is becoming increasingly structured and formalized. New laws and policies related to labour mobility and labour protection have been adopted both in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and in countries of destination. MOUs on labour migration have been developed and updated. An emerging migration infrastructure is being established based upon recruitment through private employment agencies.

However, implementation of this governance framework remains a major challenge and many of the stipulations of the new laws and regulations have yet to be realized in practice. Lao workers continue to migrate for work largely though irregular channels due to the high costs, long duration and considerable complexity of the regular channels. There remains a lack of sufficient incentives for migrant workers to make use of the more formalized migration processes and procedures that have been established.

The outcomes of these migration experiences are far from guaranteed in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic due to the high prevalence of labour rights violations against migrant workers and their lack of access to adequate support services. Limitations in the labour and social protections afforded to Lao migrants means that labour migration remains a risky proposition – with many experiencing exploitation and abuse.

As the situation of Lao migrant workers has been relatively under-researched in comparison to other migrant populations in South-East Asia, this study by the International Labour Organization helps to fill a key knowledge gap on their migration patterns and service needs. It presents valuable findings and recommendations that can be applied to improve the existing policy frameworks and service systems – expanding the opportunities for safe migration in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.