The Jakarta Post
Working abroad as a migrant worker (TKI), especially an unskilled one, may be considered humiliating by many.
Yet, for people in West Nusa Tenggara (NTB), it is still considered a big opportunity, providing both a job and the opportunity to leave poverty behind: two things difficult to achieve in their home villages.
Data from the NTB Manpower and Transmigration Agency showed that in 2013 the province sent 30,000 workers overseas and planned to send 40,000 this year.
'We can send between 30,000 to 40,000 TKI annually, mostly to Malaysia,' the agency head Muhammad Wildan told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.
This, according to Wildan, had indeed helped reduce unemployment in the province, especially in Lombok and part of Sumbawa.
Wildan said that currently there were a total of some 200,000 NTB migrant workers, 80 percent of whom worked in the plantation sector in Malaysia, other Asian countries and the Middle East.
Of these, he said, almost 85 percent were graduates of elementary and junior high schools. Only a few had graduated senior high school.
The total annual remittance these workers send home reaches Rp 1.3 trillion (US$108 million) annually.
Wildan said that working as a TKI was still a choice in NTB because the province had limited job opportunities that could only absorb between 1,000 and 2,000 workers annually in various sectors.
'From last year's job fair, less than 1,000 of the labor force could be absorbed,' Wildan said, adding that unemployment among university graduates was still high in NTB.
The agency recorded that until August 2014, there were 112,989 unemployed people in NTB, some 6 percent of the province's total labor force of 2.9 million.
The unemployed comprised 31,417 elementary school graduates, 17,482 junior high school graduates, 48,856 senior high school graduates, 3,300 diploma program graduates and 11,934 university graduates.
Presently, according to Wildan, NTB was ranked third as the province sending the highest number of TKI abroad, after East Java and West Java.
Of the regions in NTB, East Lombok, had the highest number of TKI.
'The TKI remittance entering East Lombok can reach up to Rp 60 billion annually. This is extraordinary in helping move the wheels of economy in the regency,' East Lombok Regent Mochamad Ali bin Dachlan said.
Ali said that the physical evidence of the TKI's contribution could be seen from the permanent houses that the people had built from the money they earned working as migrant workers abroad.
This, he said, had helped the regency administration reduce the number of non-habitable houses in the region as it could only provide aid to 4,000 houses per year.
East Lombok sends at least 18,000 to 22,000 TKI abroad annually, mostly to Malaysia for the plantation sector.
The TKI's work ethos, according to Ali, could be used as a model amid the limited job opportunities in the regency.
He said that despite living in poverty, they still had the spirit to struggle to build their own houses.
'If they just wait for aid, such as BLT [direct cash aid], then their poverty would become absolute,' he said.