Jakarta. Members of the Indonesian diaspora recently repeated demands to the government to allow citizens living in countries across the world the right to hold dual citizenship status.
During the 4th Congress of Indonesian Diaspora at the Kasablanka Mall in South Jakarta on Saturday (01/07), diaspora members gathered at a plenary session titled "Pros and Cons: Prospects for Dual Citizenship," to discuss the demands.
The session's panel included University of Indonesia (UI) professor Satya Arinanto, North Carolina-based security specialist Hamdan Hamedan, lawmaker Meutya Hafid, Indonesian Diaspora Network (IDN) official Herman Syah and IDN Australia member Sulistyawan Wibisono.
According to a 2006 law, Indonesia only recognizes single citizenship status, forcing citizens who obtained a foreign nationality to relinquish their rights to Indonesian citizenship.
Meutya, a member of the House of Representatives (DPR), said revisions to the 2006 law were proposed in 2015, but have had little success so far.
"There has been no draft of the revisions prepared by the government yet. DPR initiated a revision, but it reached a deadlock in 2015 [...] there has been no final decision about which direction the revisions might take," Meutya said.
Satya, a law expert with past experience in drafting legislation, said revisions to the 2006 law are not a top priority for the government, which might shelve voting until 2024.
The professor initially thought the government would pay closer attention to citizenship issues after then-16-year-old Gloria Natapradja Hamel was dismissed from the Independence Day flag raising team last year after authorities discovered she held a French passport.
Misconceptions and Challenges
Satya said changes to citizenship laws in the country have been slow to come about due to a lack of urgency and understanding of the matter by many in the Southeast Asian nation.
"I've seen that many people misunderstand the importance of [the revisions]. They think the purpose is to allow foreigners to become Indonesian," he said.
Holding foreign citizenship for members of the Indonesian diaspora would help them obtain jobs and process tricky documentation more easily while abroad, supporters of the revisions say.
"The purpose is to maintain the 'Indonesianness' of Indonesians – instead of making others become Indonesian. It could also strengthen the legal relations of diaspora members," said Hamdan, who currently resides in the United States.
Hamdan believes the revisions would be a win-win situation that would allow the government to benefit from diaspora members.
He also cited a 2011 study called "Harnessing the Diaspora: Dual Citizenship, Migrant Remittances, and Return" by David Leblang of University of Virginia, which claimed that expatriates holding dual citizenship bring home more remittances than those without foreign nationality status.
Children of multinational families could also benefit from holding dual citizenship status.
Sulistyawan said 17-year-old F4 racer Luis Leeds, who has an Australian father but Indonesian mother, places both countries' flags on his car during races, even though technically he is only allowed to represent Australia.
According to current law, children of multinational families are allowed to hold citizenship status of two countries until 18 years of age, when they must choose only one. Leeds, Sulistyawan said, has yet to make up his mind about which citizenship he will ultimately drop.
The IDN member said Indonesia would be at a loss if Leeds ultimately chooses to maintain his Australian citizenship, at the expense of his Indonesian status.
"[Indonesian children] living abroad are part of our future human capital, and that is more important than remittances," he said.
Meutya also said more public forums on dual citizenship rights would raise awareness and resolve misconceptions about the issue.
However, the lawmaker said most countries that allow dual citizenship are high-income economies, and noted that Indonesia might not be ready to adopt a similar policy in the near term.
Herman Syah, on the other hand, said the government should allow the right to foreign nationality to bolster the sense of Indonesian identity of those living abroad.
"It is more about nationalism and identity rather than seeking social protection or jobs," he said.
Some proponents of the revisions have said the country does not need to adopt a full dual citizenship policy, but can instead opt for partial status similar to a policy adopted by the Netherlands.
"The Netherlands recognizes single citizenship but there are exceptions that do not force people to lose their Dutch identity, such as getting a citizenship from their birth country, or a country where they have stayed for at least five years, or their spouse's country of origin," Herman added.
In the meantime, the government has provided members of the Indonesian diaspora with special cards to hold when abroad.
"The cards will function as residency permits and could accommodate the economic rights of diaspora members. There is no law necessary for the cards to be issued, and the foreign affairs minister said they will be issued soon," Meutya said.
Speaking on the sidelines of the congress, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi confirmed the issuance of the diaspora cards, saying cardholders will not get any "special treatment" from the government.
"Getting the card is optional. We welcome Indonesian citizens and former citizens who are still part of diaspora to sign up," she said.
The diaspora cards are planned to be released next month.