DUNCAN GRAHAM. Visit Down Under and pay up.

Indonesians will not be getting cheap and easy-to-obtain Australian visas available to Malaysians and Singaporeans. Australian campaigners seeking better access for Indonesian tourists have been officially told there will be no changes. This is despite the Republic giving Australians free visas-on-arrival and the Australian Government claiming it wants more Indonesian visitors. 

The AUD $20 (Rp 211,000) on-line visas known as Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) are used by citizens of a dozen countries including the Republic’s near neighbours. However Indonesians have to pay seven times more for permission to visit the Great South Land. They also have to complete a complex form with more than 50 questions and provide references and bank statements.

The Perth-based Indonesia Institute (II) has been urging a relaxation of entry requirements so Indonesians wanting to holiday Down Under can use ETAs.  The Institute believes more visitors will improve people-to-people relationships but that high-cost visas inhibit travel. However at the start of 2018 the II has been told that Indonesians won’t get ETAs.  No reason has been given.  Acting Assistant Secretary Ben Meagher of the Department of Home Affairs wrote to II President Ross Taylor saying Australia was “currently taking steps to transform Australia’s visa system to make it easier to understand (and) navigate”.  However “expanding access to the ETA program is not being considered”.

Till recently Indonesians had to seek Australian visas through approved fee-charging agents but can now apply directly on-line. Tourists can normally stay for up to three months at a time. The visas are valid for three years.

Apart from Malaysia and Singapore, Asian countries whose citizens can use ETAs include Brunei Darussalam, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea.  Decisions are usually given the same day, often while the applicant is on-line.

Taylor said he recently encountered a family of 21 from East Java visiting Perth.  While welcoming them,  he apologised for them having to complete 357 pages of forms and pay AUD $2,940 (Rp 31 million) to enter the country.  “I just wonder when our Federal Government will put aside the secret fear of Indonesia – despite the people being respectful, easy-going and polite – and welcome our neighbours as friends”, he said. “Australia is losing a large and expanding market driven by young people seeking overseas holidays through special on-line ‘last minute’ airfare deals.  Indonesians who want to take a long-weekend break can’t chose Australia as it’s too expensive and too slow to comply with the Australian visa requirements. And that’s a major loss to the Australian economy.  Air Asia proudly boasts on the side of its aircraft: ‘Now everyone can fly’. Maybe they need to add…’except to Australia’.”

According to Immigration and Border Protection figures, last year Indonesians represented about four per cent of the 64,000 visa over-stayers.  Most defaulters were from Britain, the US, China and Malaysia.

Australia has been attempting to lure more Indonesian visitors. Last year the Jakarta Embassy launched its Aussie Banget (Real Australia) strategy to dispel stereotypes about beaches and barbecues.  Former Ambassador Paul Grigson said the Embassy was “trying to encourage Indonesians and Australians to think of what we have in common.”  Clearly that encouragement does not extend to matching immigration rules.

Although numbers have risen the imbalance is huge. About 200,000 Indonesian tourists visit Australia every year but seven times more Australians enter Indonesia, most to holiday in Bali.  Taylor said: “When Indonesia scrapped the US $35 (Rp 470,000) Visa-On-Arrival fee for Australians (in March 2016) the Republic lost about US $30 million revenue.  The next 12 months saw arrivals from Australia rise by over 16 per cent. This delivers around US $165 million annually to the local economy. Is there a lesson here for Australia?”

Duncan Graham is an Australian journalist living in East Java.

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Duncan Graham has been a journalist for more than 40 years in print, radio and TV. He is the author of People Next Door (UWA Press) and winner of the Walkley Award and Human Rights awards. He is now writing for the English language media in Indonesia from within Indonesia.

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