In today’s Cambodia Daily, there’s an article entitled Work Permits Now Required for Foreigners. “The Labor Ministry has begun to enforce a long-neglected law that requires foreigners employed in Cambodia to have work permits, according to ministry officials.
Teams of inspectors have begun scouring the country to ensure that foreign employees and businesspeople have the proper documentation, with employers and workers facing hefty fines in the event that they are not certified.” The article also mentions large retroactive fines and payments for prior years.
Elsewhere, the French Embassy has been advising its citizens that they should get work permits, but pay for 2014 only, ie. no retroactive fines for previous years.
In Francophone Cambodge Mag, Anthony Galliano of Cambodia Investment Management reports back from his recent meeting with the Ministry of Labor. He reports that they have clearly stated that volunteers, retirees, and the unemployed will not need work permits. Anyone drawing an income in Cambodia will need a work permit from a registered business. If you are a shareholder in a licensed, registered business, you do not need a work permit. If you are self-employed or are a shareholder in a non-registered business, it would behoove you to register your business, although it seems unlikely that the self-employed will be one of the first groups targeted. Galliano suggests using this reprieve as a chance to quietly get all necessary paperwork in order.
The Cambodia Daily has published an article saying the Ministries of Labor and Interior “met on Thursday to outline the government’s plan to more strictly enforce measures for employers of foreign nationals to ensure that their staff has proper documentation.” It looks like they will be asking all employers to get work permits for their employees. There is no mention of any other class of visa holder such as volunteers, self-employed, retirees, etc.
You may have heard that the situation with Cambodia work permits has changed recently. That’s half true. In order to work in Cambodia, one has always needed a work permit. However, it was very rarely enforced and the great majority of people didn’t bother. In the last few weeks, however, there have been several announcements that the work permit requirement is now going to be enforced.
Here’s what you need to know.
First, this announcement has happened every few years for a long, long time. Most of the time, they crack down on a few expats and then the issue is dropped. This time the threats seem more serious, but it is still very much up in the air. There have been a few crackdowns this year, most notably in Kampot, but nothing has changed yet for the great majority of expats in Cambodia.
It appears that if you work for a company in Cambodia you will, at some point in the near future, need to get a work permit. They are going after the largest and most visible companies first.
Expats who have been in Cambodia the longest have the most to worry about. Work permits cost $100 per year, and they are checking passports and counting how many years you have in Cambodia and charging for the previous years. They also add fines into the mix–which are, of course, not listed in the prakas and are subject to the whims and financial solvency of those collecting. This means that those with newer passports will pay less.
Thus far, it seems that Kampot has been the only city to be seriously affected. Even in Kampot, while many people were told to get work permits, many more were ignored. In other cities, there have been reports of police going door to door asking foreigners for a copy of their passport and visa. It’s possible that this is a prelude to a work permit crackdown later in the year, or it’s possible that the sangkats are just getting their records up-to-date, as they are supposed to keep track of where all foreigners live, anyway.
At the present time it is the employer’s responsibility to secure the work permit for their employees, although this may be changing. Any foreign employee of a registered business will need to get a work permit, although there is probably no need to do it until the Ministry of Labor demands it. However, many large employers are finally getting the message and registering their foreign employees, so you may be one of the lucky ones that gets your work permit quickly and without any hassle.
It’s important to note that at the current time, work permits are not tied to visas. So even if you are on a “business” visa, you do not have a work permit. Moreover, it’s an entirely different department that is is issuing work permits than the one that issues visas. This means that even if you do not have a work permit, you will be able to renew your visa, and you won’t be stopped coming in to or leaving Cambodia if you don’t have a work permit.
And then there’s the residency card. According to the prakas, foreigners need a visa, work permit and residency card. Thus far there has been no proof that any residency card has ever been issued to a foreigner, so for the moment, this point can be ignored.
But I’m a volunteer, retiree or unemployed?!
The status of volunteers, retirees, the unemployed is still very much up in the air. Work permits may be required for all holders of long-term visas. However, a recent visitor to the Ministry of Labor says that those not drawing a salary in Cambodia will not be affected.
So what should I do?
Probably nothing. This may, as it has many times before, blow over. If you work for a large organization, your employer will secure a work permit for you. If you work for a small organization, it’s likely that you will not be asked for a work permit for at least a while. It is my personal opinion that marching into ministries and waving cash around trying to solve problems that have yet to be clarified or put on paper is a bad idea. So I wouldn’t advise doing anything until the rules become more clear, unless your employer has already brought it up.
But, but, but…
These rules have been on the books since 1995, and there’s nothing wrong with Cambodia finally deciding to enforce them. Of course it’s not ideal that are choosing to retroactively punish expats for not having work permits when it was often not possible to get work permits in years past. But it’s important to remember that Cambodia, even with an extra $100 a year tacked on for a work permit, still offers one of the easiest and cheapest visa/work permits in the world.
This is all of the information that is available to date. Clear as mud, right? Remain calm and let’s see what happens. We’ll update this blog if anything changes.