Govt to revoke visa-free facility

"We first will evaluate the benefits of providing visa-free entry facility to some countries. If there is no benefit for us, why should we give it to them," Minister Luhut Binsar Panjaitan said.
Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian government has decided to revoke its visa-free facility for a number of countries but it has not disclosed how many countries of the 169 facility recipients will be affected as it will still carry out further evaluations.

According to Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, several visa-free facility recipients will be affected based on a preliminary evaluation but he would not reveal it too early, leaving it to the Immigration Directorate General to announce it later.

The government has provided visa waiver facility to 169 countries in an effort to promote its tourism and support its target to win 20 million foreign tourist arrivals by 2019.

In March 2015, the government granted the facility for 30 countries, taking the total number of beneficiaries of the policy to 45, including the 15 existing free visa recipients.

By March 2016, the government has provided the facility to 169 recipients. The main objective of the policy is to promote the countrys tourism. However, many circles considered that the facility has the potential to be abused. It also seen to have failed in contributing to the economy.

The House of Representatives (DPR), for example, urged the government last month to evaluate the policy for fear it will threaten the states sovereignty.

"At several working meetings of the House Commission I with the Foreign Minister, we asked the government to review the visa-free policy. We also asked (the foreign ministry) to convey it to President Joko Widodo and relevant ministries," Chief of House Commission I Abdul Kharis Almasyhari said.

According to him the visa-free policy prompted many illegal migrant workers to enter the country. It has also caused losses to Indonesias non-tax state revenues. Additionally, the policy may threaten the states sovereignty.

This is because many Indonesians are not employed even as foreign workers enter the country, according to him.

Thus, it creates unrest. Lawmaker Saleh Partaonan Daulay of House Commission IX of the House urged the government to evaluate, if not scrap, visa-waiver privileges for foreign nationals, claiming these are causing unrest to certain sections of the community.

"Moreover, many foreign workers have abused the privilege and have been opting to work in Indonesia in recent days," he said.

Daulay noted that foreign workers who were able to enter Indonesia easily on account of the visa-waiver policy have caused unrest among local workers. Therefore, the government should tighten the visa policy.

It is undeniable that many foreign nationals work illegally in Indonesia. So much so that the manpower ministry, the immigration authorities and the police have arrested some of them.

"The government must be serious about resolving this problem," he stressed.

In response to reports about its impact on workers, Vice President Jusuf Kalla stated that the visa-free policy should be evaluated in response to rampant reports of illegal migrant workers in the country.

"Who knows that we have waived visa requirements but tourists have not taken advantage of the privilege? So, we need to evaluate the policy," he said last month (Dec 23).

The government had originally planned to waive visa requirements for 169 countries as part of efforts to increase the number of tourist arrivals, he said.

"We realize why the number of tourist arrivals in Indonesia is only 10 million, while our neighboring countries, which are smaller than us, have more than 20 million tourist arrivals per year. One of the factors is that they have waived visa requirements for many countries," he said.

However, official data at the Directorate General of Immigration showed that (up to December 23), the number of foreign nationals visiting Indonesia in 2016 fell to 8,278,819 from 8,526,490 a year earlier.

The visa-free policy also inflicts a potential loss of Rp1.3 trillion in non-tax state revenues. As a result of this policy, the country has been losing state revenue that would have accrued from the issuance of regular visas and visas on arrival, said Saleh Partaonan Daulay meanwhile.

Secretary General of the United Development Party (PPP) Asrul Sani also called on the government to evaluate its visa-free policy its has provided for 169 beneficiaries, particularly China and countries in Africa.

"The visa-free policy for China is not effective because it failed to increase the number of foreign tourists arriving in Indonesia. Adversely, it is prone to abuse by unskilled (expatriate) workers," he said.

Therefore, according to Minister Luhut Binsar, Panjaitan, the government has decided to revoke the facility given to certain countries. The government however will still make further evaluation.

He said that the policy needed to evaluated to see whether it gives significant contribution to the tourism sector. It also needs to be revoked if it has the potential to be abused by foreigners.

"We first will evaluate the benefits of providing visa-free entry facility to some countries. If there is no benefit for us, why should we give it to them," he asserted.

"Secondly, we will evaluate the potential to abuse this facility. Thirdly, we will consider what added value can we get from this? If we have nothing, why should we give them (the facility)," he asked.

The evaluation would be conducted randomly and is expected to be completed within a month, he said. "The evaluation will not be finished in a day. We need at least a month to recheck everything," he said.

"However, it would be too early to disclose the details. Let the immigration directorate general and other related institutions conduct the evaluation," he declared.

The visa-free policy should be evaluated if it has failed to significantly contribute to the countrys economy, he explained.

The facility, could be revoked for some countries, considering the possibility of violation of Indonesias law, he revealed.

However, based on preliminary evaluation, so far, only few foreigners had used their visa to work in Indonesia or stay longer, he reiterated.(*)