Some nationalities may again be charged for visas
Nurul Fitri Ramadhani
The Jakarta Post
The government has begun to have second thoughts about its free-visa policy, saying it has not been working as expected to boost the number of foreign tourists visiting the country.
The Tourism Ministry, the Law and Human Rights Ministry and the Foreign Ministry have therefore decided to reduce the number of countries that enjoy the privilege, which had been granted to 169.
Each ministry claimed to have listed countries that were under consideration to be removed from the list.
The Tourism Ministry, for instance, has said that 49 of the 169 countries would likely be excluded from the free-visa list as fewer than 100 tourists came from them in about the first six months after the policy was launched for each.
Some even contributed zero arrivals throughout 2016, including Puerto Rico.
Other countries on the list include Algeria, the Marshall Islands, Cuba, the Bahamas, Kiribati, Jamaica, Namibia and Vanuatu.
“According to our evaluation, we should shortlist which countries deserve the free visa and the ones to be given visas-on-arrival instead,” the ministry’s deputy minister for international marketing, I Gde Pitana, said on the sidelines of a hearing with members of the House of Representatives on Monday.
He quickly added that the free visa policy was not completely useless as it had helped increase the total number of foreign visitors by 19.43 percent from 2015 to 2016. Egyptians represented the highest increase with 53.35 percent, followed by Bahrainians with 41.63 percent, Indians with 28.78 percent, British people with 27.56 percent and Saudi Arabians with 26.91 percent.
The Law and Human Rights Ministry went further by proposing to remove 82 countries from the list as they contributed less than 1 percent, less than 1,000 tourist arrivals, to the total of 9,9 million arrivals in 2016.
Most of those countries are in Latin America and Africa.
“These countries are worth being considered to be excluded for our list of free-visa receivers,” immigration authority’s director for immigration traffic, Maryoto Sumadi, told the hearing.
Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly admitted that the government should have been more selective in deciding which countries should have been given a waiver of visa fees. “When their people never come to Indonesia, why should they keep enjoying the free visa?” Yasonna said.
The Foreign Ministry has also pushed for a review of the policy, but for a different reason. Some countries should be removed from the list not only because they have made only a small contribution to Indonesia’s tourist industry but also because they had not made reciprocal gestures.
“A free visa is not the only instrument to attract tourists,” the ministry’s director general for protocol and consular affairs, Andri Hadi, told lawmakers.
The government started to implement the free-visa policy in 2015 as an attempt to attract up to 20 million foreign tourists to the country’s vacation destinations by 2019.
The citizens of about 15 countries, including ASEAN countries, have actually enjoyed free visas since 2003, but the government decided to open the door for 30 more countries in June 2015, welcoming people from China, Russia, South Korea, Japan and the United States without charging them for visas.
Three months later, the government waived the visa fees for the citizens of 45 more countries, mostly people from Europe and the Middle East. In March 2016, tourists from 79 more countries, including many African nations, also started to enjoy the privilege.
Consequently, the country lost about Rp 1.2 trillion in non-tax revenues last year. Critics, meanwhile, have claimed that many foreigners have misused the policy and contributed to the rise of transnational crimes.
Lawmakers have supported the government’s plan to take some countries off the list, arguing that the policy had brought no significant benefits to the country. “This policy definitely needs an evaluation,” Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) lawmaker Evita Nursanty said. (dra)
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