Jakarta – As Indonesia takes a bigger role on the global stage, as evident most recently in its Group of 20 presidency, it is only fitting that it moves to become more open to foreigners wishing to stay in the country.
In an attempt to revive the ailing tourism industry, the government has laid out new strategies to make the country more attractive to foreigners. One of them is to devise friendly visa policies that would make it easier for foreigners to stay longer in the archipelago, either for work or simply spending their money here.
In October, the Immigration Office announced that foreign or ex-Indonesian citizens could now apply for a "second-home" visa, which allows them to stay in the country for five to 10 years provided they are able to show proof of Rp 2 billion (US$129,249) in personal deposit. According to the Law and Human Rights Ministry, the policy is expected to serve as "a stimulus for certain foreigners to stay and contribute positively to the Indonesian economy" in the wake of the global-economic slowdown.
We laud this new visa policy, but we do have reservations about if it is bold enough to actually make a difference.
The policy is apparently meant to attract foreign investors and retirees looking for a quieter life in Indonesia, considering that interested parties must have saved enough money (Rp 2 billion) in their bank account to be eligible for the long-stay permit. If anything, that particular requirement narrows the bracket for eligible foreigners.
The Indonesian Mixed Marriage Association (Perca) has already expressed its concern about the potential unintended consequences of this policy, saying that the policy also requires foreigners holding temporary stay permits (KITAS) and permanent stay permits (KITAP) to transition to a second-home visa within three months and provide proof of the 2 billion in personal funds. That is a huge amount that could be burdensome for some, it says. Under KITAS, the threshold of the funds only stood at Rp 280 million.
We encourage the government to immediately issue the "digital nomad" visa that is friendlier and thus a more-effective visa policy than the second-home visa.
That latter type of visa is intended to attract younger tourists who can work from anywhere with a good internet connection – from home, hotels or villas. This visa will exempt them from paying income taxes (they will be paying taxes in their home countries), but they will spend their income here, which is good for our tourism industry.
While we understand the need for the government to generate immediate and tangible financial benefits from its visa policies, we should remember that turning Indonesia into a cosmopolitan country, a melting pot for global citizens, is an important investment in the long run, especially when it is clear that we now live in a digitally borderless world.
It is ironic that for a nation that cherishes diversity and has been heavily influenced by the great civilizations of the world – Indianization, Islamization, Sinicization and Westernization – as the historian Denys Lombard put it, we are currently regarded as an inward-looking and xenophobic society.
Change that mindset: The more cosmopolitan we are, the better.