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Jakarta Post

Mixed-marriage families struggle to stay together during pandemic

  • Made Anthony Iswara
    Made Anthony Iswara

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, June 30, 2020   /   07:34 am
Mixed-marriage families struggle to stay together during pandemic Keeping a distance: Passengers maintain a safe distance while in line for their health and immigration check on Thursday at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Banten. (Reuters/Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana)

Indonesian citizen Marcellina Lintang, 31, who works as a teacher in Iraq, will finish her contract in July. She is ready to return home but worried that immigration hurdles might soon separate her from her husband, an American citizen who does not have a stay permit for Indonesia.

She is now pulling all the stops to either obtain a stay permit for her husband or extend her visa in Iraq.

She has until July 14 before she is fined for overstaying. As of Saturday, she had yet to receive a decision from the Indonesian embassy on her husband’s future status in Indonesia.

The embassy is currently processing her report and coordinating with Marcellina on the matter.

“The worst scenario, and I hope it does not happen, would be for my son and I to go back to Indonesia while my husband returns to the United States,” she said.

Many Indonesians with foreign spouses living abroad, like Marcellina, are currently in limbo, as they face obstacles to apply for or extend stay permits during the COVID-19 outbreak, although Indonesia has relaxed requirements for foreigners who are already in the country.

The latest regulation by the Law and Human Rights Ministry, which oversees immigration, generally bars foreigners from entering Indonesia unless they have a temporary stay permit (ITAS) or permanent stay permit (ITAP) with a valid entry permit.

They must now also present a health certificate showing a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test from their country of departure and be willing to undergo a 14-day quarantine upon arriving in Indonesia, as required under a Health Ministry circular issued in early May.

ITAS and ITAP holders abroad, whose entry permits have expired, can still enter Indonesia via seven major ports of entry: The airports of Soekarno Hatta, Bali’s Ngurah Rai, Surabaya’s Juanda, Medan’s Kualanamu and Batam’s Hang Nadim as well as two Batam international seaports: Batam Center and Citra Tritunas.

Read also: Indonesia to offer exemptions from temporary ban on foreigners

As a result, couples who have relied on the visa-on-arrival to get to Indonesia now struggle to meet their families, Indonesian Mixed-Marriage Society (PerCa) chairwoman Juliani Luthan said.

She said some mixed couples preferred not to apply for stay permits because their jobs required them to travel extensively between countries before the pandemic.

Even family members who are abroad and have stay permits are facing difficulties to access PCR tests to get to Indonesia, because some countries only test people with COVID-19 symptoms.

“We understand that the pandemic must be contained, and we want to avoid imported cases,” Juliani said. "But people’s right to meet their families should not be infringed."

She recommended that the government ease procedures for mixed-marriage couples to enter Indonesia or obtain new stay permits, especially if they have a marriage certificate, among other documents, to prove they have family in Indonesia.

Such easing, however, had to be done responsibly to prevent imported COVID-19 cases, she said.

As of Monday, Indonesia recorded 55,092 confirmed cases and 2,805 deaths.

On June 15, immigration offices reopened across the country for services including passport applications or renewals and services for foreign citizens, especially related to immigration status changes, obtaining new ITAS and immigration certificates and registering for limited dual citizenship.

Read also: Indonesia proposes regional 'travel bubble'

The immigration’s head of stay permits, Burhanuddin, said the directorate had yet to open services to extend ITAP and ITAS. However, he told mixed-marriage couples in a teleconference on Friday not to worry, as the government allowed holders of expired ITAS or ITAP to stay in Indonesia during the pandemic on an Emergency Stay Permit (ITKT), which would automatically replace the expired permits without the need to apply for it.

The government also allows foreigners who are already in Indonesia with visitor visas to extend their stay with the emergency stay permits, according to the immigration’s website.

“So, don’t worry,” he said. “There’s no need to fear that you will be considered overstaying."

While waiting for immigration offices’ next step, Rini Griffin, the coordinator for PerCa's Batam chapter, said mixed-marriage couples in Batam were in a dilemma, as many did not own stay permits. This was because foreign spouses in mixed couples in Batam usually worked offshore and lived in Indonesia for less than a month.

Those who are already in Indonesia have also remained in Batam, fearing that they would not see their families again for a long time should they go back to their countries of origin.

“This is really saddening. Children who are used to seeing their fathers back home after working in Singapore or Malaysia for a couple of days have now not seen their fathers for about three months, and it makes it really difficult for mothers to explain the reason to their children,” she said.


Editor’s note: This article has been updated.