Foreign Spouses Granted More Residency Rights

The Jakarta Globe

Amid cheers, elation and applause, the House of Representatives passed a new immigration law on Thursday that introduced sweeping changes for foreign spouses and children of mixed marriages.

Fahri Hamzah, deputy chairman of House Commission III overseeing legal affairs, spoke of a “breakthrough” as the gavel was banged passing the bill.

House Deputy Speaker Priyo Budi Santoso called the new law “monumental,” while Justice and Human Rights Minister Patrialis Akbar said the law was aimed at taking good care of citizens’ foreign spouses and children.

“We want to give protection to Indonesian citizens and their foreign relatives,” Patrialis said. “They are the children of Indonesia. Their [foreign] wives and husbands are part of our big family.”

The law, among other things, grants permanent residency to foreigners married to Indonesians and to their children, and allows foreign spouses to work in the country without sponsorship.

Patrialis said the law would officially become effective when ratified by the president — “30 days at the latest.”

Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) lawmaker Eva Kusuma Sundari told the Jakarta Globe that the law did not address issues such as property ownership related to foreign spouses. These, she said, will be dealt with in the upcoming revision of the Agrarian Law.

“But this is not a small gain. People no longer need to extend their Kitas every year and could still stay here after a divorce, provided they have been married for at least 10 years. It’s more humane,” she said, referring to the current limited stay permit that has to be renewed annually.

Isabelle Mace Panggabean, 31, said she couldn’t believe the law had finally been passed. Half-French, Isabelle has been married to an Indonesian for five years and the couple have one child.

“I was afraid that this law would never get passed,” she said. “There are too many bills, and the immigration bill seemed to get less attention.”

She said that in the past, she had been forced to go through the complicated process of annual Kitas renewal and regretted she was not allowed to work.

“What if my husband falls ill? Then I need [a job] to take care of our child,” she said.

Juliani Wistarina Luthan, who has been married to a Japanese for 15 years, thanked both the government and the House for passing the “reformist” law. She said she was happy her husband would no longer need to extend his Kitas.

Julie Mace, a representative of the International Rainbow Alliance and the Indonesian Mixed Marriage Society, said she would wait for the implementation phase of the law before passing judgement. She expressed hope that related institutions such as the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration would strictly abide by the law, especially when it came to the rights of foreign spouses to work.

Mace also said the groups she represented would in the short term monitor the government’s steps in implementing the law.

“We will keep focusing on the government motions in producing the ministerial decrees and government regulations because the new law will not work effectively without those,” Mace said, adding that the relevant decrees and regulations should be issued within a year.

“In the long term, we want to increase awareness of this law across the country, so that all state officials know and understand there is a new immigration law,” she said. It will be very important to have these stakeholders involved, she added, because only then will the new policies be implemented smoothly.

Additional reporting by Elisabeth Oktofani

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