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MOST APMRN Publication - Labour Migration in Indonesia
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Labour Migration in Indonesia: 
Policies and Practices 

Abdul Haris 
Patrick Brownlee 

Published by: 
Population Studies Center Gadjah Mada University 

In cooperation with: 
Asia Pacific Migration Network (APMRN), Japan Foundation, 
UNESCO-MOST, and CAPSTRANS, University of Wollongong 

ISBN 0-86418-526-6 
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The papers in this volume were originally presented at a migration workshop funded by thew Japan Foundation in 1998. The workshops were organised by members of the Asia Pacific Migration Research Network based at the Population Studies Center, Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The aim of the workshop was to bring together migration researchers and officials, identify key issues in migration and ethnic relations and develop priorities for research. This volume is one output of the workshop. 

The first paper is by Sukamdi and Abdul Haris and is entitled ‘A Brief Overview of International Migration’. The authors set out some of the principal issues to be dealt with in this collection of papers. They point out that Indonesia's reputation as a closed society in terms of labour migration is undeserved because Indonesia is the largest exporter of labour to the ASEAN region and the number of migrants is growing all the time. There has been a change in the destination of Indonesian migrants in recent years from the Middle East to the Southeast Asian region. For the Indonesian government there are major issues to be addressed, especially the low level of skills and education of many migrant workers. Labour migration is a serious issue because it has the potential to harm inter-governmental relations. Research will have to be carried out in an inter-disciplinary fashion that makes use of the neo-liberal, structuralist and functionalist approaches that dominate migration literature. 

The second paper is by Aris Ananta and is entitled ‘Economic Integration and Free Labour Area: an Indonesian Perspective’. The author surveys the available economic data and analyses concerning labour migration and argues that a free labour movement does not necessarily imply that everybody can automatically work wherever they choose. The recruitment of workers, either skilled or unskilled, no longer depends on her/his nationality, but on her/his qualification. Countries export and import goods not on the basis of whether they produce and sell the product, but whether the society really wants to buy the product. The Indonesian government should make more information available to the migrant workers about what jobs are available and let the market set a price for their labour. The Indonesian government should also certify the skill level of its workers. Sending workers to and receiving workers from abroad must not be seen simply as efforts in producing foreign exchange. The process of migration should be organized by the government in a straightforward and inexpensive way that does not lead to the creation of the huge black market in labour migration that exists currently. 

The third paper is the work of Prijono Tjiptoherijanto, Assistant IV to the Minister for Population and a staff member with the Faculty of Economics at the University of Indonesia. The paper is entitled ‘International Migration: Process, System and Policy Issues’. Its central contention is that in a globalizing era, labour migration is a key issue for public policy in Indonesia. The problems are many not least the fact that perhaps half the Indonesians working abroad do so illegally and some are treated inhumanely by their employers. For Indonesia, labour migration abroad has a positive side both for the individuals who receive higher wages in the receiving countries, and for the state, which benefits from remittances and the training received by Indonesian workers abroad. The Indonesian government needs to do more to stamp out illegal migration so as to protect Indonesians working abroad and to improve the educational and skill levels of Indonesian migrants to ensure the maximum advantage both for individual migrants and for Indonesia as a whole. 

The fourth paper is by Riwanto Tirtosudamo and is entitled ‘The Political Dimensions of International Migration: Indonesia and its Neighboring Countries’. Following the work of Myron Weiner this paper warns against an over emphasis on economic factors in understanding the process of labour migration. The political dimensions of international migration are crucial. Colonization and transmigration are examples of political migration employed by the ruling elite to reduce the possibilities of social unrest in Java and to remove the potential for political instability in various places outside Java. The strong geographical groupings of people based on race, tribe, language, and religion have motivated the ruling elite to emphasize "unity" and national integration. The two characteristics mentioned above cannot be isolated from internal politics that have been very much dominated by the military, particularly the infantry, throughout the New Order regime. The present economic crisis has given rise to a fear of a migration exodus from Indonesia to various neighboring countries, a prospect about which Malaysia, Singapore and Australia have already expressed deep concern. The plight of thousands of Indonesian migrant workers in Saudi Arabia and Malaysia is clear, yet the Government has not created an institution to protect migrant workers. The paper concludes that migrant workers should be looked upon as citizens who have rights deserving respect. 

The fifth paper is by Suko Bandiyono and Fadjri Alihar and is entitled ‘A Review of Research Work on International Migration in Indonesia’. The authors argue that more macro studies of international labour migration to and from Indonesia are needed and that they be backed up with micro studies that are sensitive to historical and regional factors. The authors point out that Indonesian international migration takes two forms, the legal and the illegal. The travel arrangements and other formalities for workers who go abroad legally are currently processed by the government in liaison with the organizations that handle the migration activities of these workers. Often the destination of Indonesian migrant workers reflects historical factors such as the existence in Malaysia of supportive Indonesians who have acquired Malaysian citizenship in earlier decades. Studies on Indonesian international migration indicate that migrants of Indonesian origin are characterized by low education, limited knowledge and skills and are aged between 15 and 40. They are often extremely vulnerable to exploitation through practices like low pay, long work hours and engagement in multiple tasks and even torture. Although international migration only contributes US $ 800 million or 0.2% of Indonesian GDP, micro studies indicate that international migration makes a significant contribution to regional development and to the lives of the members of a migrant's family. The need for improved access to data and an improved research effort on international migration should be a priority for the Indonesian government, the authors argue. 

The sixth paper is by Ida Bagoes Mantra, Professor in the Faculty of Geography, and a member of the Senior Research Staff at The Population Studies Center, Gadjah Mada University. The paper is entitled ‘Indonesian Labour Mobility to Malaysia: A Case Study - East Flores, West Lombok, And The Island Of Bawean’. This paper aims to provide a picture of the nature, the determinants and the movement of Indonesian migrant workers to Malaysia so that the two governments involved may be able to anticipate and plan for the impact of these migration activities. Malaysia has long been an important destination for Indonesian migrant workers. The movement of Indonesian migrant workers to Malaysia follows the pattern of a chain migration process and the migrant's decision to work in Malaysia is usually strongly supported by his family. The sharp economic contrast between Indonesia and Malaysia had made the movement of Indonesian migrant workers to Malaysia difficult to contain or prevent. Most Indonesian migrant workers, especially those from East Flores, Lombok districts, and Bawean island, go to Malaysia through illegal channels. The legal procedure, according to the migrants, is too intricate and consumes a lot of time and money. Indonesian migrant workers rely upon middlemen to help them reach Malaysia but there is often conflict between the migrants and the middlemen. The remittance carried back home by the returnee migrants to their areas of origin represents a relatively small amount of money and they often have to make return visits to Malaysia. A problem for the area of origin is that the migrants represent a lost source of labour. The author hopes that this research can be used as a basis to develop more appropriate policies which can address issues like how best to maximize benefits accruing to the people involved in migration activities and to minimize conflicts between Indonesia and Malaysia over the issue of illegal migration. 

The penultimate paper is by M. Arif Nasution and is entitled ‘International Migration in South-East Asia: A Case Study of Indonesian Workers in the Malaysian Peninsula’. This paper discusses workers migration among ASEAN countries in the context of economic globalization. Cases in this research are taken from the survey of Indonesian workers in the construction sector in Kuala Lumpur in 1993. The paper concludes that Indonesian workers have good prospects for entering the international labour market, as evidenced by the increasing number of Indonesian workers migrating to various countries. However, Indonesian workers generally work as blue-collar workers. Their low level of education and skills represents an obstacle for them in competing with other foreign workers (Indians, Pakistani, Thai and Philippine workers). The government has not paid enough attention to their protection and promotion in the international labour market. The experiences of the migrants indicate that they were often inhumanely treated. Consequently the government and related sectors should empower Indonesian workers in order to be able to compete with other foreign workers. Government protection is deserved not just for humanitarian reasons but because of the achievement of Indonesian workers abroad in boosting national income. 

The final paper ‘International Migration, the Strategy for National Development and Globalization’ is by Yeremias T. Keban. He notes that, in theory, Indonesia is aiming for an approach to development that pays attention to the decisions of the local community and reflects local priorities and potential. Unfortunately, regional development has not yet done much to help the areas concerned. Programs are very centralized and bureaucratic, an approach that is not suitable for Indonesia considering its diverse geography. Unless measures are taken, regions will become increasingly dependent and backward, and poverty and unemployment will inevitably reach explosive degrees. The tendency to look at the advantages of migration from the viewpoint of economic benefits accruing to the areas of origin of these workers is not convincing, in the opinion of this author. The economic situation may be worse than before if the worker decides to reside abroad, because a good number of them decide to go along with their wives. This not only reduces the economic remittance to Indonesia, but it also harms the local region. Economic problems, like the ones presently experienced by Malaysia, results in Indonesian migrant workers being forced to return to Indonesia. If Indonesia and Malaysia are to enjoy the benefits of migration, a number of issues will have to be addressed. These issues include the number and quality of migrants, procedures for sending and settling migrant workers in places which are legal, secure and guaranteed, and the establishment of policies concerning workers rights and obligations while abroad. On this last point, all of the contributors to this collection are in agreement. 

Stephen Brown & Patrick Brownlee


International migration has become a more important issue in population studies in Indonesia during the last decade. Earlier studies in the field are concentrating on economic aspects of labour migration. But, more studies currently have been conducted in the area to disclose a much broader issues of international migration. The Population Studies Centre, Gadjah Mada University (PSC-GMU) is conducting a research projects to understand various problems facing Indonesian working overseas in both destination and origin areas, including political and cultural problems. Political and cultural aspects of international migration deserve more attention due to the lack of information available in this area. 

This publication is a collection of papers presented at an international workshop on international migration conducted by the PSC-GMU in cooperation with the Asia Pacific Migration Research Network (AMPRN) and Multi-cultural Studies, University of Wollongong, Australia. As the national coordinator of the AMPRN, the Centre has initiated the workshop to better understanding on various issues of international migration. The workshop has set up a research agenda of the network. The workshop lasted for five days and involved about twenty five migration researchers of all over the country. 

As the number of Indonesian labours working abroad increases significantly during the last five years, more policy issues are facing government officials and policy makers regarding this matter. Pro and con arguments have come up in the public discourse on whether the government should support or abolish the Indonesian labours working overseas. The fact that international labour migration has involved various aspects of the relationship between countries, such as political, cultural, legal, and economic aspects, have made the debate even become very complicated. 

Due to the lack of reading on the international labour migration, the publication is expected to enrich the debate. It is also expected to fill the gap in knowledge on international migration that in the past years was neglected by population researchers. For students who are interested in international migration, I believe that they will find the publication helping them to broader interest on various issues of international migration. On behalf of the Centre, I would like to thank to all speakers who have written a paper and participated in the workshop. For editors, Sukamdi, Abdul Haris, and Patrick Brownlee who have work hard to prepare the publication, I would like to appreciate all your works to make the publication available. 

Agus Dwiyanto 

Table of Contents


A Brief Overview of International Migration 
Sukamdi and Abdul Haris 

Economic Integration and Free Labour Area: an Indonesia Perspective 
Aris Ananta 

International Migration: Process, System and Policy Issues 
Prijono Tjiptoherijanto 

The Political Dimensions of International Migration: 
Indonesia and its Neighbouring Countries 
Riwanto Tirtosudarmo 

A Review of Research Work on International Migration in Indonesia 
Suko Bandiyono and Fadjri Alihar 

Indonesian Labour Mobility to Malaysia 
(A Case Study: East Flores, West Lombok, and The Island of Bawean) 
Ida Bagoes Mantra 

International Migration in South East-Asia: a Case Study of Indonesian Workers in the Malaysian Peninsular 
M. Arif Nasution 

International Migration, the Strategy for National Development and Globalization 
Yeremias T. Keban 

Foot Note 

How to order

The price order of each copy is US$ 5, 00 (delivery cost excluded) and order can be addressed to:

Publication Department 
Population Studies Center
Gadjah Mada University
Bulaksumur G-7 Yogyakarta 55281
Tel. + 62-274-563079 
Fax. + 62-274-582230
E-mail: psc-gmu@yogya.wasantara.net.id

For more information, please contact: 

The APMRN Secretariat 
APMRN Secretariat Director: Assoc. Prof. Robyn Iredale 
Migration & Multicultural Studies 
Institute of Social Change and Critical Inquiry
Tel: +61 (02) 42 213 780 
Fax: +61 (02) 42 286 313 
E-mail: apmrn@uow.edu.au

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