Dual citizenship not enough
Sally Wellesley, Jakarta
The limited dual citizenship being hailed as a breakthrough by Slamet Effendy Yusuf, chairman of the House special committee on citizenship (Bill may lead the way for dual citizenship, The Jakarta Post
, on Feb. 8) is indeed a big step forward for Indonesian women, but does not go nearly far enough toward solving the problems of people in transnational marriages.
Slamet says that it is "good for Indonesian children to pursue better education, health and other opportunities in foreign countries". The problem is, if an age limit is imposed on dual citizenship, these children will find it difficult to bring the benefits of such opportunities back to Indonesia.
Let's look at the implications if an age limit of 18 is imposed. We'll take the example of Putra, the son of an Indonesian mother and an Australian father. He finishes high school and has managed to earn a place to study at an Australian university.
Although he has spent all his life in Indonesia, and thinks of Indonesia as home, he opts for Australian citizenship so that he can take advantage of the lower fees and other benefits while he is there -- his parents, who are not wealthy, could not afford to pay the international fees applied on him as an Indonesian citizen.
Putra works hard and gets a part-time job to help support himself. But what happens when he makes his yearly visit home to see his family? He is now a "foreigner", forced to pay US$25 for a visa to enter his own country and told he can only stay one month.
He finishes his degree and wants to return home to apply his new skills in Indonesia. He has set his heart on an entry level job with a local NGO working on community development projects. But, because he is no longer an Indonesian citizen, he does not have this option. First, as a new graduate and therefore not an "expert", he doesn't qualify for a work permit.
Second, few, if any, companies -- and certainly not the small NGO he wants to work for -- would be willing or able to pay out the huge costs of a work permit and related fees for a new, inexperienced graduate. Shunned by his own country, Putra sadly returns to Australia to find a job, his parents have to resign themselves to the fact that their son -- and later, their grandchildren -- will always be living a continent away, and Indonesia loses a potentially valuable human resource.
Indonesia's legislators could look to India for a more pragmatic approach to this issue. Recognizing that many Indians who have naturalized overseas still retain important familial, cultural and economic ties to their native country, the government passed a law in 2003 allowing them to maintain their Indian citizenship as well.
Now they can travel to their own country without visas and invest without any restrictions. Some developed countries are even witnessing a reverse migration of highly qualified and experienced Indians who want to contribute their expertise to the development of their homeland.
At a recent seminar on the Citizenship Bill, a panel of experts that included Azyumardi Azra, Ikrar Nusa Bakti and Paulus Wirutomo agreed that dual citizenship was long overdue for Indonesia. In fact, taking all the advantages and disadvantages into consideration, most of them concluded that there was no longer any good reason not to allow unrestricted dual citizenship for all citizens of Indonesia.
The usual objections that are raised -- relating to taxation, national security, child abduction and so on -- are covered by a multitude of other laws, conventions and treaties. Indonesia's insistence on a restricted version of dual citizenship will only keep the door closed to potential national assets and ensure continued difficulties for families with "feet in two cultures". The writer is Co-Secretary of Aliansi Pelangi Antar Bangsa, a voluntary organization that advocates for nondiscriminative laws and government policies and legal protection for Indonesian and foreign nationals and their families. She can be reached at email@example.com.