A request by Vietnam’s vice president for the Lao parliament to create the best possible conditions for Vietnamese to apply for Lao citizenship and permanent residence has irked some Lao government officials who have balked at the idea.
During an official visit to Laos on Oct. 15-18, Vietnam’s Vice President Nguyen Thi Doan praised the close friendship and cooperation between the two communist countries.
In talks with Saysomphone Phomvihane, vice chairman of the National Assembly, on Oct. 16, she also suggested that the Lao parliament create favorable conditions for the Vietnamese community to apply for Lao citizenship and permanent resident permits, Vietnamese media reported.
But one Lao government official said Doan’s request appeared to be an order to Lao authorities to allow more Vietnamese into the country, despite concerns about their growing numbers and the reputation some Vietnamese have for engaging in theft and other crimes, he said.
“It is normal that every country has a process for applying for citizenship based on the rule of law, but illegal Vietnamese migrants have flooded into Laos, and they are everywhere,” said an official who works at the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism.
On Wednesday, Lao police arrested a gang of Vietnamese pick-pockets during preparations for an annual boat racing festival, he said, adding that Vietnamese gangs were responsible for many cases of social unrest.
Laos has a naturalization law under which foreigners meeting specific requirements can legally obtain citizenship or permanent residency status.
Although the two nations have exchanged ideas about creating the best conditions for Vietnamese to gain citizenship during Doan’s visit, any implementation of them would have to be done in accordance with Lao law, said a parliamentarian who declined to be named.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare does not have official figures on Vietnamese migrants in the country, many of whom live in urban areas in Bolikhamsai, Khammouane, Savannakhet and Attapeu provinces, where in some places they comprise more than half of the local population.
But according to other information from the labor ministry and Ministry of Public Security, there were about 5,000 illegal foreigners in Laos in 2013, the majority of whom were Chinese and Vietnamese.
Phongsaisack Inthalath, director of the labor management department at the Laos Labor Ministry, refused to answer questions from RFA about the management of foreigners in the country, citing an official rule forbidding phone interviews.
But when asked why there was a public perception that his department has failed to control the flow of illegal Vietnamese migrants into the country, he said a monitoring process was in place, but suggested that further questions be directed to the Lao embassy in Washington, D.C.
Flouting the rules
The procedures for applying for permanent residency and citizenship are similar to those of other countries, an official in the expatriate management department at the Ministry of Public Security told RFA.
Vietnamese intellectuals must obtain CV1 visas for Laos, while businesspeople and others who work with various business sectors must hold LA V2 visas with work permits issued by the labor ministry, he said.
Yet, many Vietnamese migrants often flout such rules by entering the country on tourist visas to work at construction sites, markets, nail salons or collect scraps of iron to sell, sources said.
During her official visit, Doan and her Lao counterpart Bounnhang Vorachith also agreed to various measures to strengthen their bilateral ties in the areas of security and defense, trade, and annual ministerial level exchanges.
Although Laos and Vietnam – both authoritarian nations ruled by communist parties – maintain close diplomatic and economic relations, many Lao citizens resent their much larger neighbor, which is the second-largest investor in the country after China.
Lao critics say the Vietnamese disregard their land rights, their livelihoods and their religious beliefs while profiting at their expense.
Reported by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.