It undoubtedly is to every expatriate worker I've ever met in Indonesia, the overwhelming majority of whom are regular people whose only ambitions are to enjoy the experience of living in a foreign country and earn an honest salary. Some go home after a year, but many stay for much longer, marry Indonesian citizens and persevere in the face of a system that has been designed to ensnare people with red tape in one way or another.
I am a long time resident of this country, indeed I am half-Indonesian, making my son three-quarters Indonesian, however, while these factors would seem like normal claims to automatic acceptance by a country's government in a reasonable world, the reality of our surroundings is quite different. My son is eligible for dual citizenship until he is aged eighteen after which point he must decide between East and West, and as far as I can tell, I'm eligible for eternal visa renewals. While Alex's dual citizenship papers are pending, he must also get renewals. The convolution of the way things have been set up means that companies - like my own - who are charged with sorting out papers for their employees ,outsource the work to third-party agents who have experience dealing with such matters, and presumably know how much grease to apply to which wheels.
One of V.S. Naipaul's travel books about India, An Area of Darkness, includes an unforgettable passage describing his efforts to retrieve some spirits which had been confiscated by customs and excise. I got the distinct impression that he went through with the exercise - which were enormously distressing - to find material for his book, either that or he is extremely fond of his drink. Not having the same gift for illustrative prose as Mr Naipaul, I won't go into all the details of my very recent travails with the Indonesian Immigrasi. While there has been less sweat and tears involved so far, what's at stake for me isn't a couple of bottles of hard stuff (although I felt like some during the immediate aftermath) but rather being able to continue living in the country I've called home for most of my adult life. In my case you could say the immigration were in fact playing by the rules, but the rules which they themselves created are so byzantine and, at times, utterly nonsensical, one hardly feels like vindicating them of any blame.
My father, himself no stranger to the perils of the abovementioned bureaucracy, has long argued that the best thing to do would be to open borders and allow people to move from one country to another as they pleased, as was the case as recently as the last century for much of the world. In principle, I believe this solution, as Utopian as it may seem, would solve a lot of problems. However, modern day forms of transportation and communication are space aged when compared to the equivalents used by our ancestors of the early 1900s. Nowadays the internet has made the world an increasingly transparent place to live, and long-haul air-travel is available to all but the poorest of the poor. Without the usual demands placed on visitors to have a reasonable purpose for an extended stay in a country, a likely eventuality is great armies of the downtrodden fleeing areas of widespread hardship to turn up on the doorsteps of perhaps...Costa Rica? I can also actively imagine a world without frontiers quickly making the members of the British National Party appear to be heroes in their midst, whose warnings should have been heeded long ago. As despite my own disinclination to live there, the allures of the UK for those hitherto residing in poorly governed states are still many and varied. On the same note, Singapore would probably just collapse into the sea under the weight of all the soul-weary dissidents of nations nearby controlled by malignant despots.
But I digress, because this is not my lot.
When not faced with the throes of immigration (at least once a year), I live a reasonably comfortable, lower middle-class existence in Indonesia. The weather and the people agree with me as do many other aspects of my life here. And I feel that I can tolerate other bureaucratic machines as being part and parcel of modern life. All the bits of paper that we must keep safely around the house to prove this, that, or the other. The endless forms that must be filled out, which often include a telephone number or an address being given to an office who can't feasibly have any good use for it. But the madness imposed when it comes to my simply being here confound me. I have a job with a respectable organization, and it is one that very few Indonesian citizens are able to do. I don't have a criminal record nor do I have any intention of starting one. I have already mentioned our ethnicity, but it seems worth reiterating: I am half-Indonesian and my son is three-quarters Indonesian. I have lived in Indonesian continuously for the last ten years, he has never lived anywhere else. Why must I jump through hoops once a year, with the constant fear of falling into a fire? Why can't it be a simple matter of filling in some forms and paying a listed fee?
Indonesia's revenue offices recently went through a great deal of reform, where they wisely decided to forgive all prior tax evasions, and start afresh (a policy popularized by Nelson Mandela, I believe). Despite the odd national scandal involving their employees since the start of their reforms, I believe they have a fair chance of ultimately gaining a full commitment from the public. Why? Because their design and implementation are based on commonsense. The process is fairly transparent, and great pains have been taken by officials with a socialization programme, which has included presentations to employees at private sector companies. Most people concerned know what to do, and how to do it. The same cannot be said of the immigration department at all. In fact, most people I know are divided as to even what type of visa they should be in possession of, and very few expats know how to get any kind of visa, instead relying on the previously mentioned intermediaries to get the job done. Much of the time, we have to go an Indonesian embassy in another country to get our visas. This means we have to visit Indonesian immigration officials in other countries so that we may continue residing in Indonesia itself, which I'm sure most people will agree is patently ridiculous.
As tax officials have been saying in their public service ads aimed at tax evaders: Apa kata dunia? or loosely translated: What would the rest of the world say?