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Here We Go Again!

Disturbing Reports From Jakarta that the Visa Policy Is Again on the Table for Discussion. Changes in Policy Won't Cure a Problem that's Driven by Money and Corruption.

(10/29/2001) In a story carried in the Friday, October 26 edition of Bisnis Indonesia, Indonesia's Minister of Defense, Mr. Matori Abdul Djalil was quoted as saying that the visa on arrival policy was again being discussed at Cabinet level. The Minister reportedly said a struggle was underway between those who wished to preserve national security and those wishing to support tourism.

The idea of removing the visa on arrival enjoyed by the nationals of more than 40 countries or reducing the current 60 day length of stay is not a new one. This idea is surfaced regularly by the nation's leaders, most recently by another Cabinet member who calculated Indonesia could raise millions of dollars by charging $50 for every visa issued as people arrived in the country. Fortunately, that proposal was dropped following an outcry from the tourism industry who presented evidence demonstrating such a change would result in a massive downturn in tourism arrivals.

The latest proposal by Minister Matori appears to be a response to unwanted international attention being brought on the Government in the wake of the recent sinking of an Indonesian ship carrying illegal immigrants to Australia. That tragedy highlighted, once again, a massive illegal syndicate that is smuggling immigrants from the Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries to Australia via Indonesia.

For obvious reasons, Indonesia's tourism industry is up in arms at the very suggestion of changing the current visa on arrival rules as they struggle to rebuild business following the massive downturn in foreign arrivals in the wake of the September 11 WTC attack and anti-American demonstrations in some cities around the Country. Mrs. Meity Robot, the Chairwoman of the Association of Indonesian Travel Agents (ASITA), insisted that Cabinet should refrain from discussing the visa on arrival matter until receiving input from the tourism sector. She also suggested that changes in the current policy, if any, should be limited to the 60 day validity period with alterations being made on a country by country basis.

Will a change in the current policy offer a remedy to the problem of illegal immigrants using Indonesia as a way station enroute to Australia? Those who suggest it might, share the same profound naivety of those who earlier proposed a change in the visa policy would resolve the problem of illegal foreign workers in Indonesia. Both problems are driven by money and the willingness of those involved to corrupt the system to achieve their goals.

Let's remember that rules and procedures are already in place that allow immigration officials at the Country's gateways to verify that visitors fitting the profile of illegal immigrants to be asked to show an onward ticket to a country for which they have a legal right of entry. And like every other country in the world, those same officials also are empowered to question potential visitors to ascertain their financial means and determine their bona fides as true tourism visitors.

Before creating new rules of the game, perhaps the more logical approach would be to understand first why the current system is not working. The latest suggestion to change the visa on arrival policy, finds the nation's tourism industry praying that cooler and wiser heads will prevail.