If you have spent an extended amount of time in a foreign country, there is a word that is will likely send shivers down your spine: visa. Living, let alone working, in a country whose passport you don’t own is can be a huge pain in the ass because of arcane bits of immigration law and byzantine bureaucracies (which is kind of a repetitive phrase, historically speaking). Now, I’ve already stated my opinion on immigration in conclusion to a blog post a couple months back. I said then that I was leaning much more towards the libertarian, laissez-faire, freedom-of-movement camp and now I can confirm I have arrived in said camp and pitched a tent. There was no single event that precipitated this conclusion. Rather it’s been a months-long albatross of worry and contemplation over what to do with Imigrasi Indonesia.
As with many areas of Indonesian public policy, laws regarding immigration are often changing and inconsistently enforced. I’ve heard tell of a man who lived in-country for twenty years on successive tourist visas without ever being deported. I’m not going to take that chance. After several months on successive “Visa(s)-on-Arrival” (aka VOA’s or a tourist visas), which means flying out of the country for a night or two every 60 days, for my next renewal (in September) I will need to come up with something different. But here’s where it gets complicated.
First of all, I will need to decide which visa to apply for. The “KITAS”, which is a full working visa, is unlikely. It’s expensive and involved and you need your employer to sponsor you. Then there’s the Sosial/Budaya (Social/Cultural) Visa, which allows you to stay for up to a year but does not allow you to work. This is the most likely choice because I won’t ever be getting paid in Indonesia directly, at least for the foreseeable future, and it is relatively simple to acquire. Finally, there is the business visa. Similar to the budaya in length, it allows you to “do business” in Indonesia, but has some opaque restrictions that I have yet to comprehend. It also requires you to leave the country every 60 days to renew it.
As I’m sure you’ve gather by now, the minutiae of immigration isn’t particularly interesting, yet in the ex-pat community it is a constant topic of conversation. Message boards and Facebook groups are rife with agencies offering their services and newcomers asking for advice. To a degree, I understand the political psychology behind Indonesia’s hesitancy to allow in a flood of bulés. Indonesia is for Indonesians first and foremost and behind that philosophy there is a strong strain of nationalism/patriotism with roots in the Indonesian Revolution. As an American, I can only commiserate. But as much as anti-immigration rhetoric and policy is hurting the US economy, it is maiming Indonesia’s. There was even talk earlier this year of requiring Indonesian language skills for KITAS applicants. Fortunately that law was never passed, but in a (for better or worse) global economy it’s unfortunate that a country so far below its economic and development potential would handicap itself with unnecessary regulations.
While rumors of more stringent regulations abound (it’s hard to tell which are true and which are just the complaints of expats), there is some hope. As has frequently been the case of late, it comes from President Jokowi who has opened up visa-free travel to a number of new nations, including the US and UK. For all you who are thinking to come visit, that means you can stay for 30 days without paying a $35 visa fee. So at least there’s that.