The Revision of Dual Citizenship Regulation: Will it Boost National Development?

Illustration of passports. Foto: immigrationinvest.com

Indonesian law currently does not allow nor recognize dual citizenship. Although this rule doesn’t apply to children who were born overseas and have at least one Indonesian parent, they should still make a decision by the age of 18 or 21 whether they choose to retain or nullify their Indonesian citizenship. Discussions to change the dual citizenship regulation have been going on for many years. It started back in 2015 during President Joko Widodo’s visit to Washington, D.C., United States, where the president engaged in a dialogue with the Indonesian diaspora. “This question will be answered directly by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, because wherever I go, I have been asked that question. Personally, I want the discussion to progress and be solved as soon as possible,” said the president (Tempo, 2015).

At the end of 2020, this matter was under the political spotlight once again. The House of Representatives invited a range of experts and stakeholders to discuss further the benefits and drawbacks of dual citizenship (Fachriansyah, 2020). And on May 18th 2022, Minister of Law and Human Rights, Yasona H. Laoly, made a statement, “We are currently revising Government Regulation No. 2 of 2007. Later, perhaps, we will accommodate some of these thoughts (allowing dual citizenship for Indonesian diaspora and children from intermarriages and addressing other citizenship problems).” (CNN Indonesia, 2022b).

According to Muhidin and Utomo (2015), the Indonesian diaspora comprises over 8 million people residing in over 120 countries throughout the world. Indonesian nationals who are living abroad, former Indonesian citizens, and their descendants make up the Indonesian diaspora. Traditionally, the notion of diaspora was heavily associated with low-skilled domestic migrant workers who worked in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Saudi Arabia. Public attention was mostly focused on how these migrant workers (also known as Tenaga Kerja Indonesia or TKI) are being abused by their employers. This, of course, led to a minimum acknowledgement of their national contributions. For instance, through remittances.

The situation started to shift as more and more Indonesians relocated to other countries to study, work, marry, and pursue other opportunities. Setijadi (2017) stated how contemporary Indonesians have more ambitious aspirations and optimistic outlooks, thus making them more transnationally connected. The Indonesian diaspora’s image began to revolve around high-skilled workers or people with advanced education degrees. Ainun Najib (Head of Analytics, Platform, Policy and Data at Grab Singapore), Chairuni Aulia (Software Engineer at Google United Kingdom) and Rangga Garmastewira (Technology Lead at SeaMoney Singapore) are among those people.

This becomes a problem when most of these highly educated and skilled professionals’ Indonesian diaspora choose to live abroad and become naturalized citizens of the country of settlement. Just like Paige and Claire (2010 in Tiwari 2013) said, this led to a ‘brain drain’. Given this context, former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and President Joko Widodo had personally invited the highly skilled Indonesian diaspora to return home and contribute to and improve national development (CNN Indonesia 2022a; Tempo 2012).

Offering dual citizenship could be the answer to this problem. By doing this, the Indonesian government would be able to “bind” the Indonesian diaspora legally. Their on-going attachment with Indonesia will be supported by the law, thus becoming the symbol of the attachment itself. David Leblang (2015) argues that dual citizenship will increase the chances of the diaspora returning to their homeland. This is possible because dual citizenship reduces the transaction costs of accessing the labor market in the host country and makes it far easier for migrants to move back home. If the main goal of the Indonesian government is to avoid ‘brain drain’ by ensuring the skilled professionals of the Indonesian diaspora come home, offering dual citizenship could be the right thing to do. And the returnees would initially contribute to national development.

But as far as I am concerned, recognizing dual citizenship is a big step for Indonesia. Even when the perception of diaspora started to shift, former Indonesians who became citizens of other countries are considered unpatriotic and disloyal (Setijadi 2017; Yeung 2021). Take Anggun C. Sasmi, for example. The talented singer, who has received a number of accolades, decided to become a naturalized citizen of France in 2000. The decision took place because the Indonesian bureaucracy did not provide apparent support for her career (Tempo, 2019). Although this happened more than 20 years ago, many people still considered Anggun C. Sasmi as a person who “betrayed” her motherland until now.

I’m not saying that judging people based on their decision to retain or nullify their citizenship is the right thing to do, but I’m trying to be more pragmatic here. In my opinion, the Indonesian government can take other decisions—the less “extreme” ones—by issuing special passports, visas, or even citizenship. India has enacted a new citizenship scheme named OCI or Overseas Citizenship of India. People registered as OCI get all the benefits like regular Indian nationals, but they cannot vote in Indian elections and cannot hold any constitutional positions, such as president and judge of the supreme court (Gangopadhyay 2005 in Tiwari 2013). The purpose of OCI is mainly to accommodate and facilitate economic investment from the Indian diaspora without providing them with political rights.

Continuing to encourage the Indonesian diaspora to return home and contribute to national development will yield no results. Unless we have something in return, convincing the high-skilled Indonesian diaspora to come home and to be physically present only in the name of patriotism will be a hard thing to do. By far, unlike India and China (who also doesn’t recognize dual citizenship), Indonesia has never properly utilized its diaspora. We have never established a government branch to liaise with the millions of diaspora subjects living abroad (Setijadi, 2017). Meanwhile, India established the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs in 2004 (Tiwari, 2013) and China already launched China’s National Talent Development Plan in 2010 (Wang, 2013). For China, this scheme has become an important key to globalizing the country. The returnees have held a prominent role in supporting the national development through education, science, culture, and health.

This is the time for change. Even if the Indonesian government decides not to enact the dual citizenship law, the government should pay more attention to this matter. More careful and deliberate efforts should be made to unify the Indonesian diaspora in order to promote a sense of belonging and duty to the nation. There are so many ways to boost national development through the diaspora. We don’t have to copy exactly what India or China do with their diaspora, but the Indonesian government should give more support to its diaspora. Because just like what Sutijadi (2017) said, Indonesians abroad are a valuable asset for Indonesia’s national development.

References:

CNN Indonesia. (2022a, March 1). Jokowi Ngobrol Bareng Ainun Najib: Pulang Saja Lah, Di Sini Ada Semua. Retrieved May 29, 2022, from https://www.cnnindonesia.com/nasional/20220301115659-20-765291/jokowi-ngobrol-bareng-ainun-najib-pulang-saja-lah-di-sini-ada-semua

CNN Indonesia. (2022b, May 19). Yasonna Revisi PP 2/2007, Kaji Kewarganegaraan Ganda bagi Diaspora. Retrieved May 29, 2022, from https://www.cnnindonesia.com/nasional/20220519062950-12-798318/yasonna-revisi-pp-2-2007-kaji-kewarganegaraan-ganda-bagi-diaspora

Fachriansyah, R. (2020, December 3). House kickstarts discussion on dual citizenship amid concerns for diaspora welfare. The Jakarta Post. Retrieved May 29, 2022, from https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/12/03/house-kickstarts-discussion-on-dual-citizenship-amid-concerns-for-diaspora-welfare.html

Muhidin, S., & Utomo, A. (2015). Global Indonesian Diaspora: How many are there and where are they? JAS (Journal of ASEAN Studies), 3(2), 93–101. https://doi.org/10.21512/jas.v3i2.847

Setijadi, C. (2017). Harnessing the Potential of the Indonesian Diaspora. In C. Setijadi (Author), Harnessing the Potential of the Indonesian Diaspora (pp. 1-28). ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute.

Tiwari, S. (2013). Diaspora Engagement Policy in South Asia. In T. T. Yong & M. M. Rahman (Eds.), Diaspora Engagement and Development in South Asia (pp. 212–230). Palgrave Macmillan.

Tempo. (2015, October 26). President Jokowi to Push for Dual Citizenship Bill in DPR. Retrieved May 29, 2022, from https://en.tempo.co/amp/713015/president-jokowi-to-push-for-dual-citizenship-bill-in-dpr

Tempo. (2019, November 17). Kerap Ditanya Soal Kewarganegaraan, Anggun Samakan dengan Agama. Retrieved May 29, 2022, from https://seleb.tempo.co/read/1273337/kerap-ditanya-soal-kewarganegaraan-anggun-samakan-dengan-agama

Wang, H. (2013). China’s Return Migration and its Impact on Home Development. United Nations. Retrieved May 29, 2022, from https://www.un.org/en/chronicle/article/chinas-return-migration-and-its-impact-home-development

Yeung, J. (2021, March 16). These Asian countries are giving dual citizens an ultimatum on nationality — and loyalty. CNN. Retrieved May 29, 2022, from https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/asia-dual-citizenship-intl-hnk-dst/index.html

Annisa Seva Kamila is a third-year International Relations student at Universitas Airlangga. She could be found on Instagram with the username @annsekamila

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