Tag Archives: Visa

On Migration

There was a certain amount of irony for me this weekend. At the same time as thousands of refugees were making their way into Europe with varying degrees of welcome, I jumped over to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia on what is known here as a ‘visa run’.

I’ll save my experience in KK for another post or article and while I’ve gone into the topic in a previous post and podcast a visa run deserves another quick explanation because it’s germane to the topic at hand; namely, the free movement of people or lack thereof. Essentially, because the Visa on Arrival (VOA) is only valid for 30 days and can only be extended once for an extra 30, every 60 days those of us on the VOA have to leave the country. While this has given me a couple opportunities to explore Malaysia, I’m reminded of its slight absurdity every time. On this visa run, though, the brutal image of a Kurdish/Syrian boy washed up on the shores of Turkey and the news of thousands of refugees (yes, refugees, the term is significant) banging on Europe’s proverbial door put that slight absurdity in stark relief.

While there have been moments of horror (such as the image of the boy) and disappointing responses from some countries including Hungary, The Netherlands, and the UK to name a few, there have also been encouraging acts of humanity. Thousands of Icelanders joined a movement to welcome a refugee into their homes and with the German government expecting to see as many as 800,000 arrive this year the country’s reception, at least among football fans, has been heart-warming.

But as much as grassroots movements to help are nice things to post on social media and can serve to absorb some of the strain, the real work must be done by the EU and the wealthy, developing countries where these extremely at-risk men, women, and children are heading. The fact of the matter is they have a moral and legal responsibility to help.

Now, both morals (for example Human Rights) and international law (which frequently is derived from those morals) depend on what are called in IR-speak ‘norms’, which means they’re flimsy and somewhat less persuasive than the hard power of, say, several thousand tanks. But with those wealthy, development countries being the main purveyors of those norms, ignoring them now would be the ultimate in tragic hypocrisy.

Fortunately though, we’ve seen that the people in many of these countries still believe in helping out their fellow humans despite fearful rhetoric about Islamization and potential threats from terror. And I think a whole lot of that humanity comes from the understanding that they are privileged to live comfortable, safe, and relatively free lives in their homes countries.

And so that privilege brings me to this past weekend. At the other end of ‘migrant’ spectrum from ‘refugee’ is ‘expat’. This is what I have called myself as a title and word to describe the experiences I’ve had living in Indonesia. But I use this term keeping in mind the word ‘expat’ is racially and economically loaded and stuffed with all sorts of neo-colonialism. You’re not an expat if you’re from Africa or Asia and move to the West, you’re an ‘immigrant’ at best. But because I am an ‘expat’, I was able to catch a plane to Malaysia for a couple nights and return on my now 5th tourism visa with no questions asked. There’s also the fact that I can return home whenever I want without fearing for my life.

Really that’s what all migrants, from refugees to expats, are looking for: to live their lives in the best way possible. Arbitrary lines on a map shouldn’t get in their way.

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If they catch me at the border, I’ve got visas in my name

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.

The Leviathan, Amended

In six years of studying International Relations one hears a good deal on the power of The State[i]. In the first couple weeks, you learn how The State is a social contract between individuals to escape their ‘State of Nature’[ii] and The People give up some of their absolute freedoms to allow The State to have what’s called a ‘monopoly of violence’.[iii] After this, the conversation turns to how, why, and in what ways this monopoly of violence is manipulated, restricted, influenced, and undermined by things that happen outside of centuries old political philosophy tomes, but it is on this monopoly of violence that the global system of states is founded.

This week saw two events (good news/bad news kind of thing) that show pretty clearly the power of The State is not just some vague concept parried about in ivory towers. The first is the execution of eight prisoners convicted of drug crimes in Indonesia and the second has to do with the Byzantine bureaucracy of immigration.

Let’s begin with the bad news from Nusa Kambangan, the prison-dotted island off Java, where early Wednesday morning a firing squad executed seven foreign nationals and one Indonesia. The foreigners were from Australia (2), Ghana (1, although he was supposedly Nigerian with a fake Ghanaian passport), Nigeria (3), and Brazil (1) and the governments of both Australia and Brazil (along with the governments of France and the Philippines who also have citizens set to be executed) have lobbied the Indonesia government to spare those convicted for a variety of reasons[iv] but Indonesia, as a sovereign state, had every legal right to do exactly what it did.

The Indonesian government had and has these rights because its power does not come from other states but from its own population (theoretically speaking) and although poll numbers are hard to come by, there seems to be widespread support for the death penalty. So until the Indonesian people change their mind and the wheels of democracy turn away from capital punishment, the firing squads on Nusa Kambangan will continue. It’s also worth noting, albeit depressingly, that the US is still executing its citizens[v], some of whom are clinically insane and/or mentally handicapped, as well as those of other nations at an alarmingly immoral (not to mention extremely undeveloped country-esque) rate.

Now for the good news: Nadia, my partner-in-crime, got her Tourist Visa to the US so we’ll be heading there at the end of this month. She had been denied twice at the American consulate in the Netherlands but this trip to the Surabaya version of the same went much better.

That said, I’m beginning to build a strong dislike for immigration authorities and their regularly arbitrary, burdensome, and otherwise absurd regulations and requirements. After living in the conveniently open EU, albeit on two student visas, dealing with the bureaucracy of both the US immigration and Indonesian immigrasi is very quickly driving me to the libertarian side of this issue and allowing for the free flow of people wherever we/they damn please.

So there you go, just over 500 rather inconsequential words on The State and its power.

Merdeka atau mati.

[i] This basically means national governments but using the term ‘national’ is something academics would call “dangerous” since every self-proclaimed nation doesn’t have a state that is recognized by the international community, which leads us down a whole other rabbit whole that I spent several months researching and about ten of thousand words describing.

[ii] Which is “nasty, brutish, and short”

[iii] I.e. The State, as a representative of its population, is the only organization that can arrest, coerce, punish, execute, make war, et cetera.

[iv] The Philippines probably have the best case judicially speaking. Their citizen, a mother of two, likely had drugs unknowingly planted on her and she was unable to defend herself at her trial due to a lack of translation services.

[v] Perhaps the one difference between the two – Indonesia and the US – is that under Indonesian law, capital punishment is used for drug trafficking offenses and 15 other crimes (including murder) and not just murder as it is in the US. The flawed argument used by the Indonesian government is something like: “33 Indonesians die every day from drugs and it is the traffickers who are responsible.”