Govt drops language tests for foreigners

The Jakarta Post: The government is likely to withdraw a plan requiring foreign workers to take local language proficiency tests after investors protested, two government officials have said.

Manpower Minister Muhammad Hanif Dhakiri announced earlier this month that the government would require existing and prospective foreign workers to pass Indonesian language tests to be eligible for a work permit, a move seen by many foreign investors as protectionist.

Currently, foreigners do not have to speak Indonesian to obtain a work permit.

“Coordinating ministers agreed last week that the planned regulation should be dropped. The details are now being worked out within the Cabinet,” a government official with knowledge of the matter, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media, was quoted as saying by Reuters.

A second government official confirmed that the plan for language tests would be withdrawn after “many people complained, including domestic investors who said they needed foreign expertise”.

Hanif denied on Friday that the language tests would be canceled. The minister was not immediately available for comment on Tuesday.

Companies have increasingly raised concerns about the growing difficulties of obtaining work permits for foreign workers, with language tests being the latest example.

“If they do withdraw this, we are encouraged by that. It is an unnecessary barrier,” said Lin Neumann, managing director of the American Chamber of Commerce Indonesia.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla told Reuters last week that the planned regulation was “well-intentioned” to protect low-skilled jobs ahead of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) integration this year, but should be reviewed because of its potential impact on investment.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who took office in October, wants to spur economic growth from an estimated 5.1 percent in 2014 to 5.8 percent this year, relying mainly on higher investment.

Hanif said earlier this month that his ministry was discussing the technical matters related to the implementation of the plan, which would involve language institutions creating the test mechanism.

The language proficiency requirement is mentioned in Manpower Minister Regulation No. 12/2013 on procedures for the employment of foreign workers. However, the stipulation remains vague.

Article 26, paragraph 1 of the regulation stipulates a number of requirements for foreign workers to obtain work permits, including the ability to communicate in Indonesian. However, the regulation excludes commissioners, directors and those in temporary employment.

According to the ministry’s expatriate work permit (IMTA) records, the number of foreign workers in Indonesia in 2014 was 68,762, lower than the 68,957 in 2013 and the 72,427 in 2012.

Citizens of China, Japan, South Korea, India and Malaysia dominate expatriate numbers.

The 2014 data showed that 21,751 expatriate workers were professionals, 15,172 were advisers or consultants, 13,991 were in managerial positions, 9,879 were directors, 6,867 were supervisors and 1,101 were commissioners. Meanwhile, 36,732 people worked in the trade and service sector, 24,041 in industry and 8,019 in agriculture.

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