All working expats in Indonesia now required to learn local language

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A new decree by Indonesia President Joko Widodo that is set to take effect on June 26 has caught many expat businesses and domestic companies who hire foreign workers off-guard: While the aim of the decree is to simplify Indonesia’s procedures for issuing foreigners’ work permits, it is also requiring all expatriate workers to undergo formal Indonesian language training, an apparent first for any nation in Southeast Asia.

The government has not explained the reasoning behind the language requirement, but some observers see it as an attempt to get the influx and registration of foreign workers under control ahead of elections next year.

In detail, the decree requires companies to arrange and pay for foreigners working in the country for longer than six months to take courses in Bahasa Indonesia at local schools, and to provide attendance certificates for it.

If they fail to do so, the companies and their employees could face unspecified sanctions that are currently being drafted by the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, which processes and revokes foreign work permits.

Critics see a lot of problems coming up with the new requirement. First of all, foreign investors are getting the wrong message, some say, arguing that investors want predictable rules and not additional requirements whose objectives lacks clarity.

Other say that the language requirement would needlessly add more red tape to the work permit process and – in a country that ranks high in global corruption rankings – open new avenues for government graft, as well as for new business opportunities of issuing fake language certificates.

Furthermore, it would drive foreign workers into illegality as it already happens with a large number of Chinese manual labourers who are entering Indonesia on tourist visas to work on Chinese-funded infrastructure projects. As unregistered workers, they would not be subject to the new language requirement, so the decree would do nothing to address this problem. In turn, it eats away productive time and resources from highly-skilled expats such as on bankers, engineers and other professionals, most of which work in an English-language environment anyway.

Adding to that is a confusing statement by Joko Widodo’s spokesman towards the New York Times:

“It is necessary for companies to provide the facilities for training expatriates, but it is not mandatory to be able to speak the Indonesian language,” he said, leaving many scratching their head.

According to estimates, there are around 126,000 expats working in Indonesia, although the labour ministry reported a far lower number of less than 44,000 last year. The dominant nationalities are, apart from Chinese, US Americans, Australians, British, French, South Koreans, Japanese, Thais and Malaysians.

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

A new decree by Indonesia President Joko Widodo that is set to take effect on June 26 has caught many expat businesses and domestic companies who hire foreign workers off-guard: While the aim of the decree is to simplify Indonesia’s procedures for issuing foreigners’ work permits, it is also requiring all expatriate workers to undergo formal Indonesian language training, an apparent first for any nation in Southeast Asia.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

A new decree by Indonesia President Joko Widodo that is set to take effect on June 26 has caught many expat businesses and domestic companies who hire foreign workers off-guard: While the aim of the decree is to simplify Indonesia’s procedures for issuing foreigners’ work permits, it is also requiring all expatriate workers to undergo formal Indonesian language training, an apparent first for any nation in Southeast Asia.

The government has not explained the reasoning behind the language requirement, but some observers see it as an attempt to get the influx and registration of foreign workers under control ahead of elections next year.

In detail, the decree requires companies to arrange and pay for foreigners working in the country for longer than six months to take courses in Bahasa Indonesia at local schools, and to provide attendance certificates for it.

If they fail to do so, the companies and their employees could face unspecified sanctions that are currently being drafted by the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, which processes and revokes foreign work permits.

Critics see a lot of problems coming up with the new requirement. First of all, foreign investors are getting the wrong message, some say, arguing that investors want predictable rules and not additional requirements whose objectives lacks clarity.

Other say that the language requirement would needlessly add more red tape to the work permit process and – in a country that ranks high in global corruption rankings – open new avenues for government graft, as well as for new business opportunities of issuing fake language certificates.

Furthermore, it would drive foreign workers into illegality as it already happens with a large number of Chinese manual labourers who are entering Indonesia on tourist visas to work on Chinese-funded infrastructure projects. As unregistered workers, they would not be subject to the new language requirement, so the decree would do nothing to address this problem. In turn, it eats away productive time and resources from highly-skilled expats such as on bankers, engineers and other professionals, most of which work in an English-language environment anyway.

Adding to that is a confusing statement by Joko Widodo’s spokesman towards the New York Times:

“It is necessary for companies to provide the facilities for training expatriates, but it is not mandatory to be able to speak the Indonesian language,” he said, leaving many scratching their head.

According to estimates, there are around 126,000 expats working in Indonesia, although the labour ministry reported a far lower number of less than 44,000 last year. The dominant nationalities are, apart from Chinese, US Americans, Australians, British, French, South Koreans, Japanese, Thais and Malaysians.

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