A foreign husband is a challenge for an Indonesian woman.
She must be ready to have her rights as an Indonesian downgraded, as well as to be extorted by officials. However, the many bad experiences of previous mixed couples have become good lessons for new couples.
Renny Mayasari, 36, is one Indonesian who had prepared everything before marrying her Dutch husband.
“I did some research about marrying foreigners on the Internet and I found a lot of information from friends who had already gone through the process,” she said.
Unlike some other Indonesian women who were barred from owning property due to their foreign marriages, Renny was fully aware that she needed a prenuptial agreement to allow her to purchase a house and other things.
“I still dream of developing my tourism business in Indonesia. This prenuptial agreement will allow me to have property, even though my husband is foreigner,” Renny said, laughing.
Tini, 29, the wife of an Australian, also found important information about marrying foreigners on the Internet, including blogs written by mixed-marriage couples.
“When I processed my papers to the local religious affairs office [KUA], the officer asked for some money to expedite the process. When I asked him which regulation provided for that, he stopped pushing me,” Tini said.
She said that she did the paperwork herself at a lower cost than if the couple had hired an agency.
Before the Internet, mixed couples were often trapped in troublesome situations, which some blamed on lack of information from the government on the rights and consequences of Indonesians marrying foreigners.
“No one tells you about the importance of prenuptial agreements. Probably because this is not their business,” said Pijay, 30, an Indian citizen.
“This is why I don’t have a house or land even though I am married to an Indonesian. We were married in a hurry, and we knew nothing about prenuptial agreements,” he said.
However, mixed couples have found that one can put their children’s names on documents when buying property, or in the case of minors, they can appoint other family members as the children’s guardians.
Many Indonesian women married to foreigners such as Renny and Tini know that they are protected by the law — at least on paper.
Today Indonesia has two laws — the Citizenship Law and the Immigration Law — that address mixed-marriages. However, some of the laws overlap with previously existing legislation on marriage and labor.
The Indonesian Mixed Marriage Society (PerCa), which has around 250 members, mostly in Batam, Jakarta and Denpasar, welcomed the new laws, which allowed for dual citizenship for children before they came of age.
However some of the society’s members said many children of mixed marriages lost their Indonesian citizenship due to their parents ignorance of the law.
Article 41 of the Citizenship Law stipulated that children born to mixed marriage couples before the law was enacted had until Aug. 1, 2010, to obtain Indonesian citizenship.
After that date, children born before Aug. 1, 2006 would automatically be registered as foreign citizens, as was the case before the law was passed.
Rulita Anggraini, the chairwoman of PerCa, said the government failed to promote the 2006 Citizenship Law, particularly in border regions, where many Indonesians were married to foreigners.
“We are still striving to ask for more time from the government” regarding the arrangement of childrens’ citizenship, she said.
Previously, many Indonesian women could not retain custody of their children after their foreign husbands completed their jobs in Indonesia. The children usually followed their fathers back to their countries. To stay with their mothers required temporary stay permits (KITAS) or permanent stay permits (KITAP).
A KITAS allows foreigners to stay up to 24 months in Indonesia, while a KITAP allows foreigners to stay in Indonesia up to five years.
Although the costs are about Rp 3 million to extend a temporary-stay permit, the process is a notorious redtape headache. Many foreigners prefer to hire agencies, even though it makes the costs much higher.
Eva is one of the lucky women who benefited from the 2006 Citizenship Law. Her husband, a citizen of Senegal, died in 2006, leaving her with a baby boy.
“I was so lucky, because the law allowed me to register my boy as an Indonesian citizen, so I don’t need to pay for a KITAS or KITAP. I cannot imagine the future of my son with a foreign nationality, when he knows no one in Senegal,” Eva said.
The Citizenship Law also allows children to posess dual nationalities until they are 21 years old. In case the children decide to follow their foreign parent, they can more easily obtain a permanent-stay permit.
The new Immigration Law allows for permits for foreigners married to Indonesians.
“The new revision of the Immigration Law is based on humanity. We know that it will be difficult for foreigners to visit their families in Indonesia, so we adjusted the regulation,” Maryoto, the spokesman of the Immigration Directorate General said.
Since the amended Immigration Law was passed last year, the number of foreigners applying for visas sponsored by their spouses increased.
The number of foreigners asking for KITAS due to marriage jumped from 166 foreigners in 2010 to 3,794 in 2011, 2,365 of whom were men.
“Now, it is easier to be married to foreigners,” Tini said. “As long as you have all the information.”