The Jakarta Post
Indonesia announced last week that it will scrap visa on arrival fees for Australians in an attempt to boost the number of visitors to the country.
While this may lead to a small increase in Australian tourists visiting Bali, what the government really needs to do to increase people-to-people exchange to make it easier for young people to work and study in Indonesia ultimately facilitating deeper economic, political and cultural relations.
The new Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Indroyono Soesilo announced last week that the government will abolish visa fees for several countries, including Australia. The Minister argues that removing these fees will encourage much needed tourism to the country and stimulate economic growth.
While the removal of the relatively small fee of US$35 may make a holiday to Bali even cheaper, it is unlikely to attract more Australians to the country. Getting through immigration in Denpasar is usually easy and the low cost of the visa is highly unlikely to be deterring Australian travelers who are outlaying thousands of dollars on flights, accommodations and other expenses.
The Indonesian policy is certainly not going to encourage Australians to venture beyond the hotspots of Kuta and Lombok's Gili islands to less popular locations in need of tourism nor is it going to encourage tourists to develop any meaningful ties with the country.
The Australia-Indonesia Youth Association's (AIYA) 2014 member survey of 500 young Australians and Indonesians found that the biggest barrier inhibiting more young people from travelling to either country was visa procedures.
Survey participants were not referring to tourist visas, but rather the cumbersome process for getting a visa to work and study in Indonesia for any length of time.
Of particular note is the reciprocal work and holiday visa between Indonesia and Australia that was introduced in 2009. Although the Indonesian government has made some improvements to the visa scheme recently, it is still poorly promoted, difficult to arrange and prevents young people from working in certain professions.
The KITAS temporary stay visa, which is often used for student exchange programs, is even more difficult to arrange. Many Australian students require the assistance of third party organizations with operations and contacts in Indonesia to access a KITAS.
While Indonesia could do more to reduce the barriers for meaningful youth engagement, so too could the Australian government. Australia's strict visa policy for Indonesians was also cited as a major hindrance to engagement by Indonesian respondents in the AIYA survey.
For instance, Indonesian tourists cannot apply for a visa on arrival in Australia; instead they have to organize a visa prior to departure. Tourist visa applicants to Australia cost $130, and Indonesian applicants have to comply with numerous other administrative hurdles. Indonesians visiting family members, for instance, need to show Australian authorities a letter of invitation from their family to access a tourist visa.
It is work and study, rather than tourism, which provides young Australians with access to the Indonesia beyond Bali where they learn the language and culture. These extended stays sow the seeds of future economic, political and cultural engagement. Similarly, greater opportunities for Indonesians to spend time in Australia could boost our underdeveloped economic ties with the country.
Importantly, it is people with a depth of experience in each country who become the biggest advocates for Indonesia in Australia and Australia in Indonesia.
The recent decision announced by Coordinating Minister Indroyono shows that the new Indonesian government is willing and able to reform immigration policies and processes to improve people-to-people links between countries.
While these reforms may make a minimal difference to boosting Australian tourism to Indonesia, let's hope that the next step for both governments is immigration reforms that will make a substantial difference to the Australia-Indonesia relationship.
The writers are co-founders of the Australia-Indonesia Youth Association Limited, a not-for-profit organization aimed at building people-to-people links between Australia and Indonesia.