Citizens in Laos say they are unhappy with the government’s decision to grant Lao citizenship to almost 2,000 Vietnamese living within the country.
Those opposed to the extension of citizenship say that the government is prioritizing the Vietnamese immigrants over native born Lao.
“Ordinary Lao people find it difficult to be properly registered in the family census, so we have to wait as the process is long and drawn out, but now it’s easy for Vietnamese to simply waltz in and get Lao citizenship,” said a retired official to RFA’s Lao Service Thursday.
“The Vietnamese [immigrants] are taking advantage of Lao people because they are here in Laos working as hair dressers and construction workers. They are snatching away our livelihoods,” he said.
“The 2,000 Vietnamese granted Lao citizenship will take over the jobs of 4,000 Lao,” said the retired official.
An official of the ministry of information, culture and tourism told RFA that the overture by the government is part of a greater geopolitical strategy.
“The citizenship grant is due to the special relationship between Laos and Vietnam, so Laos has a duty to prioritize Vietnamese in Laos,” the official said.
But another official, who manages family registration at the ministry of public security, denied this.
“It’s not true,” the second official said, adding “The Lao citizenship grant is simply following criteria set forth in [naturalization] laws.”
According to those laws, immigrants are eligible for Lao citizenship if they have legally resided in Laos for at least 10 years and have been approved by the national assembly and the Lao president after the ministry of justice has made a declaration of the applicant’s Lao citizen status.
Lt. General Vilay Lakhamfong, the minister of public security, said at the Lao national assembly’s 8th session that over 6,000 Vietnamese immigrants applied for Lao citizenship, but slightly fewer than 2,000 would become citizens.
The future Lao citizens of Vietnamese descent all reside in Bolikhamxai, Xiengkhouang and Houaphane provinces.
Meanwhile, legal experts and officials told RFA on Thursday that Laos has an undocumented migrant worker problem. The workers come to Laos illegally from China and Vietnam.
“Those people in Laos cause social disruptions like working illegally, human trafficking, drugs, illegal trading, thievery, and [violent crime,]” said a Lao legal expert.
An official of the Vientiane labor and socio-welfare department told RFA that many of the Vietnamese and Chinese migrants “work as [street] vendors, nail spa employees and hairdressers.”
Another issue that officials have trouble containing is the prevalence of illegal marriages between Lao and Vietnamese.
Border officials from the neighboring countries met on May 9 to discuss management and control of the migration of their respective people.
According to data from a Lao border official who attended, 170 Lao-Vietnamese couples were living in Laos’s Phongsaly province, while 90 such couples were living in neighboring Dien Bien province in Vietnam. It is estimated that other neighboring provinces in Laos and Vietnam have similar rates of intermarriage.
Meanwhile, on October 15, Lao authorities deported 130 Chinese for committing crimes in Laos.
An official of the Chinese Embassy in Vientiane told RFA that the deportees were “involved in cheating the Chinese for money.”
“The victims get tricked to transfer money to their bank accounts. Lao people are never the victims, but if there are any cases where Lao people are the victims then please contact us here at the embassy,” the official said.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Eugene Whong.