Indonesia to miss out on $2bn in remittances after Mideast maids ban

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Indonesia maidThe decision of the Indonesian government to stop allowing maids and other low-skilled labourers to take on jobs in the Middle East and North Africa and call them back home is putting annual remittances of up to $2 billion at stake.

The ban, which came into full effect in May this year after a three-month transition period ended, covers all Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, all North African countries, as well as Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Palestine, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Mauretania and South Sudan, bringing the total number of banned countries to 21. Since May, close to 70,000 Indonesian women were held back from leaving for the Middle East to work.

Indonesia will now additionally recall around 700,000 workers, mostly housemaids and drivers, from Saudi Arabia over a period of 15 months. Maids and low-skilled workers in the rest of the GCC, namely Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain and the UAE, are allowed to finish their contracts but are then also expected to return to Indonesia where the government is promising “to increase employment opportunities so women won’t feel compelled to go abroad for money,” according to Indonesia’s Manpower and Transmigration Minister Hanif Dhakiri.

However, the Indonesian national budget will have to bear the brunt of missing out on up to an estimated $2 billion in remittances these workers used to send home every year. Latest available government data of 2013 shows that – officially – around 1.33 million Indonesian migrant workers based in the Middle East, most of whom are actually maids and low-skilled workers such as drivers and janitors, sent home $2.18 billion, almost one third of total remittances of $7.42 billion Indonesia received from its global expat workforce over that year. And these are just official figures, with an unknown amount of additional cash finding its way back home through off-the-book channels mainly from an estimated additional 500,000 Indonesian working illegally or without proper documentation in the Middle East.

Most of the money came from Saudi Arabia, with the second largest group, or around 90,000, of Indonesians, working in the UAE. Some 19,000 maids have already been called back from the UAE, sources close to the Indonesian embassy in Abu Dhabi said. In Qatar, there are around 39,000 Indonesian expats of which around 20,000 are employed as domestic helpers, according to census data.

The preference in the Middle East for Indonesian household helpers, drivers and other domestic workers such as gardeners, janitors or doormen, are mostly based on cultural factors, as many Indonesians speak at least basic Arabic, are also of Muslim faith and have experience in their work. There were, however, instances of labour regulation violations and cases of domestic violence that prompted Indonesian president Joko Widodo to announce that he wanted to put an end to the export of the country’s low-skilled workers to “restore their – and Indonesia’s – pride and dignity.”

Indonesia will continue to allow women to work as maids in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, where more than 700,000 Indonesians work as domestic helpers and although there have also been cases of abuse. To improve the female workers’ skills, the Indonesian government wants to teach them specialised skills, such as caring for babies or cooking, rather than serving all purposes. There will also audit and accredit centers be set up to ensure migrant workers know their rights before going abroad.

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

The decision of the Indonesian government to stop allowing maids and other low-skilled labourers to take on jobs in the Middle East and North Africa and call them back home is putting annual remittances of up to $2 billion at stake.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Indonesia maidThe decision of the Indonesian government to stop allowing maids and other low-skilled labourers to take on jobs in the Middle East and North Africa and call them back home is putting annual remittances of up to $2 billion at stake.

The ban, which came into full effect in May this year after a three-month transition period ended, covers all Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, all North African countries, as well as Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Palestine, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Mauretania and South Sudan, bringing the total number of banned countries to 21. Since May, close to 70,000 Indonesian women were held back from leaving for the Middle East to work.

Indonesia will now additionally recall around 700,000 workers, mostly housemaids and drivers, from Saudi Arabia over a period of 15 months. Maids and low-skilled workers in the rest of the GCC, namely Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain and the UAE, are allowed to finish their contracts but are then also expected to return to Indonesia where the government is promising “to increase employment opportunities so women won’t feel compelled to go abroad for money,” according to Indonesia’s Manpower and Transmigration Minister Hanif Dhakiri.

However, the Indonesian national budget will have to bear the brunt of missing out on up to an estimated $2 billion in remittances these workers used to send home every year. Latest available government data of 2013 shows that – officially – around 1.33 million Indonesian migrant workers based in the Middle East, most of whom are actually maids and low-skilled workers such as drivers and janitors, sent home $2.18 billion, almost one third of total remittances of $7.42 billion Indonesia received from its global expat workforce over that year. And these are just official figures, with an unknown amount of additional cash finding its way back home through off-the-book channels mainly from an estimated additional 500,000 Indonesian working illegally or without proper documentation in the Middle East.

Most of the money came from Saudi Arabia, with the second largest group, or around 90,000, of Indonesians, working in the UAE. Some 19,000 maids have already been called back from the UAE, sources close to the Indonesian embassy in Abu Dhabi said. In Qatar, there are around 39,000 Indonesian expats of which around 20,000 are employed as domestic helpers, according to census data.

The preference in the Middle East for Indonesian household helpers, drivers and other domestic workers such as gardeners, janitors or doormen, are mostly based on cultural factors, as many Indonesians speak at least basic Arabic, are also of Muslim faith and have experience in their work. There were, however, instances of labour regulation violations and cases of domestic violence that prompted Indonesian president Joko Widodo to announce that he wanted to put an end to the export of the country’s low-skilled workers to “restore their – and Indonesia’s – pride and dignity.”

Indonesia will continue to allow women to work as maids in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, where more than 700,000 Indonesians work as domestic helpers and although there have also been cases of abuse. To improve the female workers’ skills, the Indonesian government wants to teach them specialised skills, such as caring for babies or cooking, rather than serving all purposes. There will also audit and accredit centers be set up to ensure migrant workers know their rights before going abroad.

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