Between The Omnibus Law, Changing Nationality, and Migration

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In early October, the House of Representatives’ hasty and furtive decision to pass the controversial omnibus bill draft into law had sparked discontentment among working-class Indonesians who perceived that some articles contained in the bill, such as articles on remuneration and termination of employment, would put them at disadvantage against their employers. Many protests opposing such action were then held in big cities to demand it to be revoked, with some of them were turned violent. On the internet, some people even created online campaigns to support the annulment of the bill and had virtual discourses that compared all the articles in question with the respective laws currently existing to substantiate their criticisms.

But, of all the expressions of disapproval the people had towards the omnibus law that were put on national display, there was one interesting bit circulating on the internet that appeared to have gained quite a traction from the public — the desire to change nationality. As soon as the law was passed, social media users began sharing an idea about relinquishing their Indonesian citizenship to move to the developed countries in hopes of avoiding the negative effects of the bill and any other government’s unpopular actions. And in response to that idea, some online news media even made articles about the procedures and requirements needed to change nationality.

Certainly, it was served only as a little jest and people didn’t actually leave the country because of the situation. But, looking at how the government fought back the crowds by incarcerating protesters and surveilling social media accounts they considered provocative, people might eventually start to view changing nationality as a promising option they should take into account. And it’s not a bad thing. Rather, emigration could, in some ways, help reduce the unfavourable impact of the bill on workers, especially those who are most vulnerable to being exposed to it. In Puerto Rico, which is one of the poorest U.S. territories, emigration contributed to the decrease in the poverty rate from 44.4% in 2017 to 43.1% in 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The logic behind the premise that emigration could help workers is quite similar to what happens in Puerto Rico and other countries that experience a large scale of emigration throughout history. If people — particularly middle- and upper-class Indonesians — who can afford to live abroad do emigrate to other countries, it would subsequently make the Indonesian labour market less competitive. And the vacant positions they leave behind will be filled by those who are currently out of the job. As a result, the overall disposable income will increase, and the unemployment and poverty rates will decrease. By having more paycheck, people can afford to get a better education with which in turn will help them improve their well-being. Thus, in the end, if the new bill does have negative effects on workers, at least it would be less severe.

In addition, emigrants often contribute to their former country’s economy by sending back remittances to their families or to invest in local businesses. In the last few years, according to the World Bank, migrant remittances have become the largest foreign capital inflow into developing countries. The Chinese diaspora is the perfect example of the success story of this whole narrative as they have been an important source of investment and one of key drivers of mainland China’s economy for decades. A strong sense of cultural affinity helps them develop tight-knit business ties with mainland China’s local entrepreneurs, as well as among themselves. They help finance Chinese ventures within and beyond mainland China’s borders. In Southeast Asia, this web of connections, called the Bamboo Network, even controls a large part of the region’s economy.

Nevertheless, In Indonesia, changing nationality is still regarded as an unpatriotic move by many Indonesian nationalists. People who change their Indonesian citizenship have been judged as disloyal or feeling embarrassed with their Indonesian roots. Anggun C. Sasmi, an Indonesian-born internationally acclaimed singer, is one of them. She has been criticised for her decision to change her citizenship and become a french passport holder. She defends herself by saying that the only thing that has changed is the colour of her passport, but she is still an Indonesian at heart. This shows that the old concept of nationalism the people have this whole time definitely needs to be redefined.

Indonesian people who stay abroad might still have a strong connection and identity with the nation, even if they no longer hold Indonesian passports. It is not something that can be wiped out as soon as they leave the country. And with the wealth they accumulate and the new connections they build, they can still contribute to the nation and be the ambassadors that promote Indonesian culture and economic prospects in their new countries. Therefore, changing nationality should not be perceived as an act of disloyalty. Instead, it can expand the meaning of nationalism beyond Indonesian borders and, once again, help people reduce the downsides of the government’s unpopular policies.

For information, to begin working in foreign countries, as a starter, people can try to apply for a working holiday visa. Currently, there is a bilateral partnership between the Indonesian government and the Australian government to establish a working holiday visa program for Indonesian citizens aged 18 to 30 years old, where they can stay and work in Australia for a maximum of 12 months. This program aims to promote cultural exchanges and to maintain relations between the two countries. Yet, for the Indonesian people, this can serve as an open door for those who want to emigrate and an opportunity to enhance their skills and start building a promising international career abroad.