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Lao PDR is a landlocked country bordered by Thailand, Cambodia, Viet Nam, China and Myanmar. Regional integration is a key  issue for the country, as it moves towards closer economic relations with its neighboring states, particularly with the advent of ASEAN Economic Integration in 2015. While the country has considerable development challenges, it is on a sustainable growth path. The World Bank believes that the country is on track to achieve its long term vision: to graduate from the Least Developed Country status by 2020.

Lao PDR’s geographical position and the move towards greater economic integration with its neighbours has motivated the development of large transportation infrastructures projects to increase and improve regional trade, which at the same time facilitates the movement of people. Development of economic corridors for inter-regional trade and travel within the Greater Mekong Sub-Region is well underway.  In addition to the opportunities for increased economic growth, the new economic corridors and trade routes facilitate the movement of people, including irregular and unsafe migration, human trafficking and movement of disease across borders.

In recent times, the country has witnessed an increase in job opportunities in urban areas to the point where there is now a labour shortage.  Many Lao, however, particularly from the rural areas where jobs are scarce and low-paid, continue to cross to Thailand for work.  They are drawn by higher wages, the ease with which they can integrate into a country with a similar language and cultural traditions, the system of border passes which allows simple entry into Thailand for short periods, and porous borders where people are able to cross back and forth with no record of their movements.  A lack of public awareness of laws and legislation relating to working in Thailand makes potential migrants vulnerable to exploitation and human trafficking.

While there is considerable emigration to the neighbouring countries, increasing numbers of immigrant workers are also entering Lao PDR from Viet Nam, China, Thailand, and Myanmar. There are an estimated 200,000 migrant workers officially in the country, mostly in the construction sector, where Chinese and Vietnamese contractors and investors prefer to employ their compatriots because of their experience, ease of communication (speak the same language) and willingness to work for lower wages.

Young people are the most vulnerable category of migrants. Their motivations for migrating include a complex mix of aspirations for modernity; obligation to remit money to parents (which weighs particularly upon young women); under-employment; lack of useful vocational education; uncertainty of income; and poverty in their home communities. Rural to urban migration within Lao PDR is driven by similar motives and is creating increasing numbers of urban poor, who are also at risk of trafficking.

The country is prone to natural disasters, mainly floods and droughts. Floods mostly occur during the monsoon season between May and September and mainly affect the alluvial plains of the Mekong and its tributaries in the southern and central provinces. Droughts generally occur in western and northern provinces and in some higher elevations in the southern provinces, affecting agriculture and livelihood. These disasters often have severe consequences in terms of human and economic losses, in particular when hitting poor and vulnerable rural communities.
All the above factors highlight several interconnecting needs.  

  • A more effective border management system to facilitate migration management. 
  • A national awareness-raising effort to inform people, particularly youth and their parents, and particularly those in vulnerable communities in hard-to-reach populations and identified as being at risk, about the dangers of human trafficking and attendant risk of exploitation. 
  • Improved vocational training to give young people more highly skilled and better paid job opportunities in Laos and reduce their exposure to the risk of exploitation as irregular labour migrants, who tend to be unskilled. 
  • Viable options need to be developed for returning migrants to take advantage of the skills and training they have acquired and to facilitate their smooth reintegration. 
  • Trans-border health programming needs to be improved to protect both migrants and host communities.
  • Improved coordination in disaster preparedness and response management to mitigate the risk and results of disasters, improve food security and livelihoods, and contribute to rural development.

The IOM office in Vientiane works closely with the Government of Lao PDR on building capacity and raising awareness on all the above issues.  With the support of the Regional Office based in Bangkok, IOM Vientiane also provides support to government officials to attend ASEAN workshops and meetings on the forthcoming regional integration in 2015.
As a member of the UN Country Team in Lao PDR, the IOM office in Vientiane works together with the Government of Lao PDR, UN agencies and development partners in Lao PDR towards the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals and the objectives of the National Socio-Economic Development Plans 2011-15 and 2016-20.

Current Vacancies in IOM Lao PDR

Position Title Duty Station Closing Date
Project Officer Vientiane, Lao PDR 25 January 2017

Migration Management


  • United States Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM)
  • Government of Canada
  • Government of Italy

Since 2002 IOM has worked with the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare of the Government of Lao PDR to combat people smuggling and human trafficking, promote safe migration and provide assistance and protection to victims, initially through the Bangkok Office and since 2007, with funding from the US Government (PRM), the Government of Italy and the Government of Canada, directly from the IOM office in Vientiane. Activities fall under four main categories. 

Awareness-raising includes the development and implementation of awareness raising campaigns at district level in Salavan, Savannakhet, Champasak and Bokeo Provinces, and in 2015 in Vientiane Province (US Government) and the border districts of Savannakhet (Italian Government).  These aim to sensitize the general public, and particularly vulnerable potential migrants from identified higher risk groups, on the dangers of human trafficking, the increased risk of exploitation it entails.  The activities focus especially on the gender dimension because of the greater risk to young women and children.  Information is also provided about how to obtain work permits and valid travel documents for safe migration for employment.  A large-screen television and DVD has also been provided and installed at the Vientiane Passports Office, screening DVDs of stories of personal experience of people who have been trafficked.  

Capacity-building for government officials at national, provincial and district level, by providing training in holding public meetings to warn villagers in remote and at-risk communities about the human trafficking and safe migration.  IOM also supports Government involvement in COMMIT and other regional bodies and agreements including, in 2014, the signing of the Lao-China MOU for cooperation in combating human trafficking.

Direct assistance and protection is provided to victims of trafficking (VOTs) who have been returned from neighbouring countries, through the operations of the Vientiane Transit Centre in collaboration with the Department of Social Welfare.  Activities include reception of VOTs, gender specific and needs-based psycho-social counselling, health checks, provision of daily necessities and assistance with returning to villages and families.

Border Management: The Government of Canada has provided funding for more specialized training for government officials to combat people smuggling and trafficking, including how to distinguish between the two.  Three workshops for front line border officers from northern, central and southern provinces were held in 2014, focusing on identifying fraudulent documents, investigations and interviewing techniques.

All IOM counter-trafficking projects in Lao PDR are implemented within an IOM Greater Mekong Sub-regional strategy aimed at promoting safe migration throughout the sub-region. IOM in Lao PDR works in close partnership with Government, UN agencies and INGOs.

  • “Strengthening governments capacities while increasing vulnerable migrants’ resilience in the Greater Mekong Subregion and Malaysia” – USAID (PRM) Oct 2014-Sept 2015 (Phase V)
  • “Strengthening the Border Management Capacity of Lao PDR Government Officials to Combat Migrant Smuggling” – Government of Canada, Anti-Crime Capacity Building Project (Phase II) Aug 2013 – March 2015
  • “Addressing Migrant Vulnerabilities to Prevent Human Trafficking and Protect Victims, Particularly Children, in Targeted Special Economic Zones and Economic Corridors in Cambodia, Lao PDR and Viet Nam” – Italian Development Cooperation  Jan-Dec 2015

Disaster Response Management


  • USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA)

In 2015, IOM will implement a project whose overarching objective is to develop a National Disaster Response Training Framework.  Undertaken in partnership with the Disaster Management Division of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, this project will provide a national platform for institutionalizing training of designated officials from Government Ministries mandated with disaster response responsibilities under the National Disaster Management Plan.  Country-specific training modules have been prepared by the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center with thematic areas included in the training comprising assessment of disasters and disaster risks, management of human and material resources and information, and coordination of inter-sectoral and inter-ministerial responses to disasters and humanitarian emergencies.  Working with the Disaster Risk and Response Management Working Group (DRRMWG) in Vientiane, IOM will collaborate closely with other agencies active in this field in Laos.

Project: Strengthening the Capacity of the Government of Lao PDR to Manage and Respond to Humanitarian Emergencies – USAID/OFDA  Apr 2014 – Jun 2015

Last updated:
Main text: December 2014
Facts and figures: August 2014

Population (2015):6.8 million
Area:236,800 km sq
Languages :Lao, French, English, various ethnic languages
Currency:Kip (LAK)
GDP per Capita PPP (2014):USD 5,162
HDI Rank (2014):141 of 188
Remittances (2014 estimate):USD 60 million
Net Migration Rate (2015-2020):-2.1 migrants/1,000 population
Immigrants (2015):0.3%
Women as a Percentage of Immigrants (2015):46.3%
Population under 15 (2015):34.8%
Adult HIV Prevalence (2014):0.30%

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