ULAANBAATAR (Reuters) - Mongolia will not put a cap on immigration in 2018, authorities said on Tuesday, after lawmakers rejected new policy proposals that set to put tough restrictions on the numbers of foreign workers in the remote north Asian nation.
Some members of Mongolia's parliament sought to limit the number of new resident permits granted to foreign or stateless people to 100 per year in a bid to protect domestic jobs in the resource-rich country.
But the proposal has been rejected, and the existing system of quotas on specific business sectors will continue, an official with the immigration authority said.
"We don't have a national quota for 2018," the official said.
Last Friday, about 67 per cent of parliament voted against further discussions on capping the number of immigrants. The vote was one of last made before parliament adjourned for the Lunar New Year holiday.
The former Soviet satellite state, squeezed between Russia and China and rich in gold and copper, has sought to encourage free trade since its transition to democracy in 1990, but it has been careful to resist any influx in foreign labourers. Immigrants currently make up less than 0.4 per cent of the population.
Last year, Mongolia cut its foreign workforce in half, and sent home about 1,200 North Korean workers. The Oyu Tolgoi copper-gold mine, run by mining conglomerate Rio Tinto, has also been under scrutiny for its use of Chinese labourers.
With just 3.1 million people in an area almost the size of Alaska, Mongolia is the world's least densely populated country.
Mongolia saw its economy rebound after a small crisis last year following the approval of a $5.5 billion economic bailout from the International Monetary Fund and partners. The assistance has helped the country pay off its sovereign debt and stabilised the local currency, the tugrik.
The IMF last week said Mongolia was on course to receive another tranche of the bailout package after concluding in a regular fiscal assessment that the country had met key fiscal deficit targets while strong international commodity demand was aiding the country's recovery.
Mongolia's budget for 2018 is projected 4.2 trillion tugrik ($1.75 billion) in GDP growth, with a budget surplus of 9.6 trillion tugrik, said the parliament’s chairman, Miyeegombyn Enkhbold, in his closing address last Friday.
($1 = 2,398 tugrik)
(Reporting by Terrence Edwards; Editing by Nick Macfie)