Indonesia’s Order to Foreign Workers: Learn the Language
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia is making it easier for foreigners to work here — but they will have to study as well.
A decree by President Joko Widodo that is set to take effect this month will simplify Indonesia’s procedures for issuing work permits to foreigners, which are often hampered by delays, arbitrary denials and revocations, not to mention compulsory bribes to civil servants just to stamp the paperwork.
Buried inside the order is a section requiring all expatriate workers to undergo formal Indonesian language training, an apparent first for any nation in Southeast Asia.
The foreign business community has been caught off guard by the new requirement.
“Our businesses want to be here and want to invest, but what they also want are predictable rules,” said A. Lin Neumann, managing director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Indonesia, which represents nearly 300 American companies operating in the country.
The United States is one of Indonesia’s largest foreign direct investors, in industries including oil and gas, mining, banking, technology, e-commerce and logistics.
The language requirement “sends a negative message that foreigners are somehow unwelcome,” Mr. Neumann said. “This hurts the investment climate.”
The order also applies to domestic companies, which are reacting with alarm.
“I think this is foolish; it’s stupid. It lacks clarity on what the objective is,” said Suryo B. Sulisto, a prominent Indonesian business executive and former chairman of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“What are they trying to do — stop investment coming in?” he added. “It’s counterproductive.”
The government has not explained the reasoning behind the language requirement. But it may be an attempt by Mr. Joko, who is running for re-election next year, to placate political rivals who say he is “opening the floodgates” to foreign workers by streamlining the process for obtaining work permits.
Indonesia, a country of 260 million people, currently has about 126,000 working Asian and Western expatriates, a low percentage compared with neighbors like Singapore and Malaysia.