Sat, 22 Feb 2003

U.S. eases immigration policy on Indonesians

Berni K. Moestafa, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The United States has further eased its controversial immigration policy to ensure there will be no massive expulsion of Indonesian nationals from the country.

Spokesman for the Indonesian foreign ministry Marty Natalegawa said on Friday the U.S. decision followed a meeting between a diplomatic mission sent by Jakarta on Thursday with top Washington officials.

President George W. Bush's administration agreed to extend by four weeks the Feb. 21 deadline for Indonesians living in the U.S. to register themselves with immigration authorities. It also eased requirements under the new policy.

The immigration policy applies to Indonesian males aged 16 years and above who are visiting or have been in the country for more than 30 days.

Marty said the Indonesian delegation held a teleconference meeting with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney on Thursday.

The mission also met Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage and Undersecretary of State James A. Kelly as well as senior officials from the Department of Homeland Security and the Attorney General's Office.

Led by the ministry's director general for America and Europe, Arizal Effendi, the delegation expressed concerns that the immigration policy might lead to discrimination against Indonesians.

Officials have estimated that between 40,000 to 100,000 Indonesians are living in the U.S. without proper documentation

"I would like to emphasize that there will be no mass deportation or mass detention," Marty told a press conference.

He said Indonesia was concerned about a repeat of last year's expulsion of thousands of illegal workers from Malaysia. The U.S., however, had earlier already assured Indonesia that it had no intention of cracking down on illegal Indonesians immigrants.

Immigrants who want to register but lack the papers, had 15 months to complete them or have the authorities decide their status, Marty added.

He said Indonesians who chose to return home and re-apply for a U.S. visa had four months to leave the country. It is not clear how much time immigrants normally have in both cases.

"The American side said these (leniencies) were a response to the urgings of Indonesia and Pakistan," Marty added.

Indonesia along with 25 other countries was included last month under the U.S. immigration policy, known as the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS).

NSEERS was enacted in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Although it will cover all countries by 2005, the first batch of countries on its list are either Islamic states or those that have large Muslim populations.

Indonesia sent its delegation to Washington after NSEERS drew public criticism, mainly, however, from House of Representatives legislators.

Armitage told the delegation that the U.S. government understood Indonesia's concern, said U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher in a statement.

"He (Armitage) also explained efforts to ensure that the registration system does not impose undue difficulties for foreign visitors," the statement said.