Flow, motivation, and job-change history in British and Hong Kong Chinese workers

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Morgan name. The new government expelled some 50, Dutch citizens and confiscated their businesses and properties. More than , Chinese Indonesians also left for China in the latter part of the decade due to legal uncertainty and discriminatory practices, often leaving behind their belongings involuntarily. Over the course of the authoritarian New Order regime —98 , political dissidents and leaders of various independence movements in the outer provinces of Aceh, East Timor, and West Papua also left Indonesia to continue their political struggles in exile.

Due to Indonesian military retaliations against these independence movements, thousands of Acehnese, Papuan, and Timorese civilians were forced to flee to neighboring countries, including Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Australia, and further afield during the respective armed conflicts in their home areas.

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Indonesian labor migration to other countries—both voluntary and forced—has a long history. Historically, the traditional destination was the Malay Peninsula, just across the Straits of Malacca, but other extended destinations emerged during the Dutch colonial period for a relatively small number of migrants to other colonies, including Surinam Dutch and New Caledonia French.

The scope of extended migration expanded in the s, as the Indonesian government started to actively encourage international labor migration to address labor surpluses and to earn foreign currency. Most of these migrant workers went to countries in the Asia-Pacific region and the Persian Gulf, with Malaysia and Saudi Arabia consistently the most popular destinations except during short periods when the Indonesian government banned recruitment for employment in those countries.

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Economic turmoil that followed the Asian financial crisis also motivated many Indonesians to look for jobs abroad. As with many other Asian countries that are sources for low-skilled labor migrants, the proportion of women grew rapidly from the s onwards. With time, they outnumbered the men. Between and , for example, 69 percent of low-skilled migrant workers from Indonesia were women working in countries such as Hong Kong SAR, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Middle East.

Most female labor migrants are employed for domestic service, care work, and in other sectors that are often not covered by labor and employment relations laws.

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However, this is likely an underestimate because many migrant workers are hired without authorization and avoid detection; even for authorized Indonesian workers there is no central authority that compiles numbers for all destinations. Table 1. Available online. As expected, remittances began to increase as more workers went abroad; in , they represented 0. But so too did reports of human-rights abuses. Usually in response to public outrage about the physical abuse or even legal execution of migrant workers, the government has suspended recruitment to particular countries Malaysia in , lifted in and even to entire regions the Middle East in , which remained in place at this writing.

Indonesian migrant workers pay relatively high recruitment fees for overseas employment compared to what they earn. In Hong Kong, where the wage is deemed high, Indonesian domestic workers pay 60 percent to 70 percent of their wages in recruitment fees during the first five to seven months. This is permitted under Indonesian law; the government has not ratified the International Labor Organization ILO Private Employment Agencies Convention of , which prohibits charging workers placement fees.

Typically, men pay the fee upfront, while women make repayments after they start work either directly as in Hong Kong , or through deduction from their wages Malaysia and Singapore. Repayments and deductions are often equivalent to the majority of their wages in the first year of employment—resulting in a delay of much-sought-after development impacts. In , President Joko Widodo formalized arrangements to start harnessing the economic, political, and social potential of the millions of Indonesians abroad—many of whom are no longer Indonesian citizens. For many years, the Indonesian diaspora has lobbied for legislative amendments, including dual citizenship, parliamentary representation, property ownership rights, and constitutional recognition.

Presidential Regulation no. Indonesia is also a source of other forms of emigration, such as international students.

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Historically, Australia has been the primary destination for Indonesians seeking an undergraduate degree, largely because of its proximity, high-quality education system, and English-language instruction. In , almost 20, Indonesians studied in Australia. The United States is the second most popular destination, followed by Malaysia.

Just 7 percent of the Indonesian workforce has a college degree, and the World Bank estimates that this share would need to triple in the next few years to meet the needs of the Indonesian job market. This low rate is largely due to the lack of financially supported options, including scholarships or student loans, to pursue higher education. In , for example, the Indonesian government awarded just 2, scholarships for postgraduate study overseas. Indonesians also migrate for marriage, a trend seen in many Chinese-speaking areas in the Asia-Pacific region.

Chinese-Indonesian women from poor backgrounds in the province of West Kalimantan are recruited to marry working-class men in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Between and , the Taiwanese government issued on average 2, residence visas to Indonesian spouses. Immigration restrictions have made commercial marriage more complicated for those heading to the closest destination, Singapore, so would-be husbands instead take a short boat trip to neighboring Indonesian islands to unite with their wives and for sex tourism. Indonesian refugees and asylum seekers are another category of outgoing migrants.

Members of the Acehnese ethnic group sought international protection in neighboring Malaysia, the United States, Sweden, and elsewhere during armed conflict between the Indonesian military and the Free Aceh Movement from to Resulting from anti-Chinese riots in , hundreds of Chinese-Indonesian Christians migrated to the United States with dozens facing deportation under the Trump administration. In , the Australian government granted international protection to 42 Indonesian refugees from Papua, which strained the Indonesia-Australia relationship as the Indonesian President asking the Australian Prime Minister to return the refugees.

Other persecuted minorities have also claimed asylum in the region, including the Ahmadiyah in Hong Kong. Indonesians also travel internationally for leisure and short business trips, as poverty has decreased in both rural and urban parts of the country. Significant administrative and infrastructural changes in Indonesia have encouraged this trend. The emergence of the low-cost airline Air Asia in eventually connected many Indonesian cities to its hub in Malaysia and to destinations in more than 20 countries.

The Indonesian government has expanded domestic airports to service international travel, and has made it easier to apply for passports. As of June , Indonesians could also travel visa-free to 56 countries. But they still face substantial difficulties and costs associated with visa applications to other destinations, such as Australia and the European Union. Indonesia is a destination for high-skilled migrant workers, but the government authorizes foreign employment only for positions that require qualifications, work experience, and skill sets not easily found in the domestic labor market.

The number of immigrants working legally as English teachers, senior managers, and other professionals has declined in the last several years because of tighter government policies. Table 3. Unauthorized low-skilled foreign workers, particularly from China, also head to Indonesia.

There has also been public outcry in response to false claims, such as that there are more than 10 million Chinese workers in Indonesia doing jobs that locals could do. Additionally, Indonesia harbors foreign victims of trafficking, particularly fishermen from Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand. In early , the government rescued 1, stranded fishermen from Ambon and Benjina remote locations in eastern Indonesia where they had been kept under slavery-like conditions. Usually these individuals are repatriated to their home countries without compensation or restitution.

A number of foreign women, particularly from Eastern Europe, Thailand, Vietnam, and China, also fall victim to sex trafficking.


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Indonesia regularly carries out deportations of arrested unauthorized migrants, deporting 7, people in and 11, in In , about 5, foreign students were enrolled in Indonesian educational institutions. Indonesian universities are particularly attractive to students who speak Bahasa Indonesia or Bahasa Malay, such as those from Timor-Leste which was part of Indonesia until and Malay minorities in Southern Thailand. However, this number is very low when compared to the number of international students in neighboring Singapore and Malaysia and to Indonesians studying overseas.

Further, a agreement between Australia and Indonesia allows Australian youth ages 18 to 30 to visit Indonesia, and vice versa, to work and travel for up to two years. The quota for Indonesians to work in Australia is almost always filled. However, the initial take-up of this visa among Australians was extremely low. Thanks to its tropical climate, Indonesia is very attractive for retirees from colder regions.

Despite a number of privileges available to them, retirees may not work and must pay taxes on income earned from abroad. Unlike Malaysia, Indonesia is not among the top ten popular overseas retirement destinations. In , about 14 million foreign tourists visited Indonesia, fewer than the 15 million target set by the Tourism Ministry. Most tourists stay for up to 30 days, as permitted under regulations, but a small number also work as consultants, reporters, or artists on multi-entry business visas and without the proper work permits.

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