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Citizenship duel

Jakarta Post Editorial - May 8, 2024

Jakarta – Last week, senior cabinet minister Luhut Pandjaitan dangled a very enticing carrot in front of a very specific audience at the Microsoft Build: AI Day event, just ahead of the politician's meeting with the software giant's CEO, Satya Nadella, who was visiting Jakarta with plans to invest in the country.

The coordinating maritime affairs and investment minister said in his remarks that the government would grant dual citizenship to members of the Indonesian diaspora who were willing to return to the country for work.

Long-time advocates for dual citizenship in Indonesia might not have even flinched at the surprise announcement by the outgoing administration. It is a promise that has been brought up time and time again by different politicians but which has seen scant follow-through.

But Luhut was speaking to skilled professionals in the software industry, and perhaps the broader IT sector, which the government hopes to use as a peg on which to hang its hopes for its "2045 Golden Indonesia" vision.

The minister predicted that by 2029, with the possible help of initiatives such as the ones discussed by Microsoft that day, Indonesia would have nearly 3,000 young professionals prepared to work as software developers in the country.

It was at this point that Luhut shifted his focus to the diaspora, promising them work and greater citizenship rights as long as they "fulfilled the requirements for Indonesian citizenship".

No further details were provided, and after soliciting more information from other government stakeholders who had a say in the issue, it became increasingly clear that this was likely another case of wishful thinking.

Indonesia does not recognize dual citizenship for adults, and minors with one non-Indonesian parent are required to choose a single citizenship once they turn 18 and renounce the other passport.

As several lawmakers and legal experts have pointed out, it would take a lot of political will to implement dual citizenship, as it would require an overhaul of existing rules and regulations, from the 2006 Citizenship Law to provisions on property ownership, labor rights, taxation, administration and immigration, among other things.

That is why, even in an era of fast-tracked legislation, it is a rare treat to find both state officials and lawmakers in agreement about exercising the utmost care and caution in the deliberation of the Citizenship Law revisions.

Clearly, Luhut was trying to make a pragmatic comment on considering dual citizenship for members of the Indonesian diaspora. Doing so, he said, would "bring very skillful Indonesians back" to the country, presumably in an attempt to stop or reverse brain drain.

For many years, the number of Indonesian nationals who have chosen to relinquish their citizenship has ebbed and flowed, with many skilled professionals forced to find greener pastures overseas because of a lack of opportunities or a steep pay gap.

Last year, the head of the immigration office revealed that nearly 4,000 Indonesians had been issued Singaporean passports between 2019 and 2022, mostly students aged 25 to 35.

And yet, the government has done more to lure foreigners into the country, whether through its metered golden visa policy or in the recruitment of foreign soccer players of Indonesian heritage to boost its international chances.

Under the near decade-long leadership of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, there has been no conclusive evidence suggesting that allowing dual citizenship would raise the threat to national security or even result in tax avoidance. Those things already happen with or without it.

Indonesia has one of Southeast Asia's lowest tax-to-GDP ratios at 10.21 percent, far below Vietnam and the Philippines, whose ratio's hover around the 18 percent mark and which are some of the few countries in the region offering dual citizenship.

It is high time we ask what the government can do for you and not just what you can do for the government.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2024/05/08/citizenship-duel.htm