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Indonesia wants expats to go through language training

President toughens immigration talk ahead of elections

Indonesian President Joko Widodo speaking in Jakarta.   © Reuters

JAKARTA -- Jakarta is set to introduce a regulation that requires companies to offer training in Bahasa Indonesia, the local language, to foreign employees, as pressure mounts on President Joko Widodo to protect Indonesian jobs ahead of presidential elections next year.

The president signed a decree in March -- set to come into effect this Friday -- which aims to simplify Indonesia’s procedures for issuing work permits to foreign workers. In the decree however, is a clause that instructs all companies, domestic and foreign, who employ foreign workers to “facilitate Indonesian language education and training.”

Details on the new rule are still being decided at ministerial levels, but some of the suggestions include making it mandatory for companies to offer Bahasa training and to do so for longer than six months, said an official from the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration. This means companies could face penalties for not following the decree. However, expats would not be held accountable if they choose not to participate in the language classes.

The introduction of the language education requirement comes at a time when the public is increasingly growing weary of the influx of Chinese workers especially into sectors like mining, smelting and power plants.

Indeed, illegal Chinese immigrants have been found to be working in Chinese-funded infrastructure projects. But rumors have also been circulated on the internet about as many as 10 million Chinese workers “invading” the country.

The rumors, which died down last year, have returned in recent months ahead of the June 27 elections of governors, mayors and regents in nearly half of the country’s administrative regions. Chinese workers top the number of foreigners employed in the country, which totaled 126,000 last year, according to official data. Some observers and labor unions, however, say that those numbers do not account for illegal immigrants.

The president's opponents have used the issue of Chinese workers to knock his credentials, accusing him of allowing foreign workers to dominate local jobs. As such, Jokowi, as the president is affectionately known, is keen to position the new regulation as the government’s efforts to tackle the problem.

“We will decide on the details of the decree after gauging public mood,” said a senior official from the government who asked not to be named, pointing out that if the public does not see the measures as being tough enough, there is scope for tightening the rule.

Indonesia had issued a ministerial regulation in 2013 that was aimed at forcing expats to be proficient in Bahasa to obtain work permits.The policy was never enforced and Widodo quashed it in 2015.

 

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