The Jakarta Post
The government is preparing a new regulation to ensure that its recent decision to waive visa requirements for 30 countries starting in April can be imposed without delay, despite an immigration law stipulating that visa exemptions could only be made on a reciprocal basis.
Tourism Minister Arief Yahya said in Jakarta on Wednesday that a presidential regulation was being drafted as a legal basis to ensure that the visa-waiver policy could be imposed in April.
'We expect that the implementation can be started next month, while we also conduct diplomatic strategies for reciprocity,' Arief said at a press conference after a meeting with the Office of the Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister on Wednesday.
Arief said the government had also started diplomatic efforts with each of the 30 countries that would be given visa exemptions, to open possibilities of reciprocity for Indonesia.
'We are expecting that the reciprocity mandated by Indonesian law can help our efforts to look for similar visa-free policies for Indonesians planning to travel to their countries,' Arief said.
As reported, the government would extend the visa-free policy, which was initially set for China, Japan, South Korea and Russia only, to 30 countries, including Canada, Mexico and the US.
Also included on the list are European countries such as Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK, in addition to South Africa and Middle Eastern countries such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Visa-free facilities were provided for tourists from Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei Darussalam, the Philippines, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Macau Special Administrative Region, Chile, Morocco, Peru, Vietnam, Ecuador, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.
But the visa exemption given to the 30 countries violates Law No. 6/2011 on immigration, which stipulates that foreigners who are allowed to enter Indonesia without visas are citizens of countries that also have visa exemptions for Indonesian tourists.
Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna H. Laoly said earlier that the government would also keep pushing the aforementioned countries to adopt the visa-free policy for the sake of reciprocity.
The Tourism Ministry was seeking the elimination of the 'reciprocity basis' clause from the Law and Human Rights Ministry, so that it would not hamper the implementation of the visa-free policy for 30 countries.
Through the visa-free policy, the government aims to attract an additional 3 million tourists this year, bringing the overall target up to 11 million tourists.
Malaysia, which waives visa requirements for 164 countries without any reciprocity basis, welcomed more than 27 million foreign tourists last year.
The number of foreign tourist arrivals last year rose by 7.19 percent to 9.44 million, up from 8.8 million in 2013, with tourists spending more than US$10.5 billion on accommodation and leisure activities, according to the Central Statistics Agency (BPS). This year, the ministry hopes to attract around 10 million foreign visitors and more than $11 billion in earnings.
The visa-free policy is also expected to slightly narrow the current-account deficit ' which has sparked bearish sentiment from foreign investors on the rupiah ' that stood at $28.4 billion throughout last year.
The government expects that the revision of the visa-free list could attract at least 1 million new foreign tourists to the country and an additional foreign exchange income of $1.2 billion on the assumption that each tourist spent $1,200 during his or her stay.
Arief also said that the ministry had launched a pilot project in Batam, Riau Islands, that cut permit processes for yachts and cruise ships to boost contributions to maritime tourism, as issued by a recent presidential regulation.