Illegal foreign workers in Bali pose problem

BALI - Authorities in Bali said that they found it hard to crack down on foreigners working or opening businesses on the island on tourist visas.

Denpasar Immigration Agency communications head Soraha Manulang said during a discussion on Tuesday that many foreigners had misused their tourist visas, especially the Visa on Arrival (VoA) - which were easily obtained - and worked on the island. The occupations varied, he said, ranging from working as diving instructors and hotel marketing staff to tour guides.

Besides misusing tourist visas, Soraha added that many foreigners married Indonesians just to stay longer on the island. However, a law stipulated that in such a situation, they were only allowed to open a small business for their own family, while being prohibited from working for companies.

Soraha said, however, it was hard for the agency to take measures as colleagues or the companies for which they worked hid this fact, thus making it difficult to prove violations.

"We often suspect some foreigners, but find it difficult to prove their wrongdoing because the people around them are protecting them," he said, adding that he hoped Bali residents could help his agency spot and report these violators.

Throughout 2013, Soraha said 37 foreigners were deported, some of whom were foreigners working on tourist visas. He estimated that 1 to 3 per cent of last year's 3.2 million inbound travelers violated their visas.

"For efficiency, we immediately deport those proven to have breached their visas, because if we put them on trial, we would spend lots of time and our government would have to bear their living expenses, which are quite high," he said.

Soraha said that the phenomena appeared due to Bali's status as a top international tourist destination, which enticed people to come and try their luck establishing a business or working on the island.

Sang Putu Subaya, head of the Bali chapter of the Indonesian Tour Guides Association (HPI), acknowledged the high number of foreign tour guides in Bali. He said a bylaw actually prohibited foreigners from working in this particular job.

"But we can all see that many foreigners are guiding tourist tours, especially for travelers from countries with specific languages. They usually recruit tour guides from their respective country," he said.

"Some of them are married to Indonesians. They guide tourists from their home country."

To help crack down on this practice, he said the association worked with other institutions to hold inspections at tourist sites. "We have found many foreigners working as tour guides. They were immediately deported."

Meanwhile, Ketut Tresna from the Bali branch of the Indonesian Marine Tourism Association (Gahawisri), acknowledged numerous tour and travel companies owned by foreigners that recruited overseas citizens as their workers.

"The diving instructor guiding the Japanese tourists who ended up missing was one of them. This was because they didn't use local instructors," he said. "Therefore, we urge the province to place stricter control on this."

Former Bali Tourism Agency head Gede Nurjaya, who is now active in the Grand Council of Customary Villages (MUDP), said many tourists had visited and or stayed in villages in Bali. "But locals don't know whether they are tourists, workers or what."

He said the provincial administration should disseminate information on how to report illegal foreign workers, especially to customary villages.

The Bali Manpower and Transmigration Agency recorded in 2013 that around 1,800 foreign workers required permit extensions.