The World Bank recorded that in 2016, there were more than 9 million Indonesians who worked abroad, or equal to almost 7 percent of the nation's total workforce.
In the East Asian region, only China and the Philippines contribute more international migrant workers than Indonesia.
In 2016, remittances from international migrant workers reached more than US$8.9 billion, contributing to the economy.
Based on data from Bank Indonesia (BI), the foreign exchange contribution from the remittance activities of Indonesian migrant workers increased significantly to reach US$9.71 billion in 2022.
The remittance showed an increase of 6.01 percent compared to US$9.16 billion in 2021.
Nevertheless, sometimes working abroad poses risks to workers. Cases of violence experienced by Indonesian migrant workers have contributed to public opinion that efforts to protect migrant workers are still lacking.
Some of the risks, especially those faced by women employed as domestic workers, include sexual and physical violence, forced labor, and non-payment of wages.
One of the main causes of those risks is the illegal placement of Indonesian migrant workers abroad.
The Indonesian Migrant Workers' Protection Agency (BP2MI) reported that during the period from 2019 to August 9, 2023, the number of Indonesian migrant workers was recorded at 3.9 million. Most of the migrant workers went to Malaysia and Saudi Arabia for work.
When compared to World Bank data for 2016, there are still around 4.2 million Indonesians who have or are currently working abroad but are not documented. There is also the possibility that migrant workers have long gone to work abroad, but in violation of official rules and procedures.
"In the end, among them are 99 percent of Indonesian migrant workers who recently returned (to Indonesia) in troubled conditions," BP2MI secretary Rinardi said when contacted recently.
The departure of migrant workers can also lead to cases of human trafficking. In the past 3 years, BP2MI handled around 94 thousand Indonesian migrant workers who were deported from Middle Eastern and Asian countries.
At least 1,935 workers died and their bodies were returned to Indonesia, and 90 percent of the migrant workers whose bodies were brought back and those who were deported had been placed illegally. In addition, at least 3,377 workers became physically disabled, depressed, or lost their memory.
Around 90 percent of 94 thousand Indonesian migrant workers who were deported from Middle Eastern and Asian countries departed illegally and were believed to have been sent by illegal placement syndicates.
Stepping up governance
Migrant CARE executive director Wahyu Susilo has suggested that in order to restrain illegal migrant worker departures, especially to prevent human trafficking, the government must update the governance of migrant worker placement.
"So far, legal departure of migrant workers has been subject to high costs and is full of bureaucracy, which has caused Indonesian migrant workers to take shortcuts," he said.
The BP2MI recorded that last year, the average cost of placement of Indonesian migrant workers reached Rp30 million per person.
To suppress the illegal departure of migrant workers, the active role of the government at all levels — central, provincial, and regional — is needed to ensure joint responsibility.
The dissemination of information regarding safe migration must also be carried out actively, down to the basic level.
President Joko Widodo (Jokowi), in early August this year, ordered ministerial ranks to review the governance of Indonesian migrant workers' placement so that they get better protection.
Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs, Airlangga Hartarto, was asked to review the governance of the placement of migrant workers, starting from their departure, placement in the destination country, and up to the time when they return to the country.
Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs, Mahfud MD, was also asked to review law enforcement with an emphasis on the implementation of Law Number 18 of 2017 concerning Indonesian Migrant Workers' Protection.
Meanwhile, the BP2MI has continued to encourage the participation of governments at the provincial, district, city, and village levels, in accordance with Articles 40, 41, and 42 of Law Number 18 of 2017, which have divided the responsibilities and authorities of regional governments and village governments in protecting and serving migrant workers.
This includes allocating a fund from the regional budget (APBD) for the training and protection of people working abroad so that they can have better educational competency and skills, which can help them work in areas other than informal work.
The BP2MI is also cooperating with immigration offices to strengthen the supervision of the movement of people going abroad without legal documents, which includes requiring people who plan to go abroad to have a legal return ticket.
Immigration offices have also been asked to suspend the passports of illegal Indonesian migrant worker candidates who get caught, especially those sent by brokers and syndicates, for at least 5 years to prevent them from going abroad again.
The World Bank in 2016 recorded that almost two-thirds of the districts that send Indonesian migrant workers are relatively poorer areas, with their average poverty rate higher than the national figure.
In addition, most Indonesian migrant workers are recorded to have a low level of education, although gradually, more educated workers are also joining this group.
Therefore, creating jobs in Indonesia that are more inclusive and with better salaries will provide prospective migrant workers with attractive and competitive alternatives worth considering besides working abroad.
That way, migrant workers will no longer see migrating and leaving their families at home as the only choice.
Indeed, it seems that creating such jobs is a goal that the government is aiming to achieve and has even become a long-term goal.
However, given the slowdown in the pace of job creation in Indonesia in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for comprehensive structural reforms, achieving this goal will take considerable time and effort.
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