Mon, 05 May 2003

New visa rule another burden

I read with bewilderment reports of the recent changes to the visa regulations for visitors to this country. Previously, nationals from 48 countries were entitled to obtain a free 60-day visa on arrival in Indonesia. The new legislation allows nationals from just 11 countries (those with reciprocal rights) a 30-day tourist visa on arrival in Indonesia. Others may be entitled to a hefty, US$40 to $45 on-arrival visa that would be valid only at the place of issuance and the surrounding areas, or would have to apply for a visa at an embassy overseas. Furthermore, tourists will not be allowed to extend their visas and will have to leave the country at least two weeks before they must apply for a new visa.

At a time when the tourist industry is in dire straights, this decision, at best, reflects a disregard for those people who are so desperately attempting to eke out a living from a devastated industry or, at worst, a failure on the part of the politicians running this country to formulate an appropriate response to a crisis situation. I do not begrudge the government the right to impose tougher visa regulations on tourists, or to charge them for those visas. Most other countries insist on the same for Indonesian citizens, after all.

However, now is not the time to impose this new legislation. It is going to take a lot of very hard work by all those involved in the tourist industry to convince prospective tourists that Indonesia is once again a safe and desirable holiday destination. The new legislation certainly does nothing to assist with this image when a family of four is faced with an additional charge of $180.

Minister of Justice and Human Rights Yusril Ihza Mahendra is quoted as saying, "Other countries generate revenue from it (visa fees), so why don't we?" (The Jakarta Post, April 16). The Minister apparently misjudges the situation. Very few other countries have had to deal with the same level of internal and external disturbance over the past five years. In this respect Indonesia is unique in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Minister is also quoted as citing internal security measures for the introduction of the new legislation. Thus, millions of Indonesians are being made to suffer for the action of a few foreigners.

Rather than taking a measure that will do nothing to boost tourism in this country in the immediate future, the government should be doing its utmost to encourage as many tourists as possible to come to Indonesia. Instead of effectively restricting access, the government should be making it easier for tourists to come here by, for example, issuing free, 90-day, on-arrival visas. The income generated by longer-stay tourists would far outweigh that generated by expensive, short-stay visa revenue.