Indonesia to Implement Language Testing for Foreigners

In what seems a direct contradiction to Indonesia’s recent talk of encouraging more foreign investments, foreigners wishing to apply for work visas in Indonesia will now have to pass a language proficiency test.

This announcement came from the country’s Labor Ministry, and apparently there will be no exceptions. This means that the new rule will also apply to the approximately 68,000 foreign workers currently working in Indonesia.

It remains unclear what “level” of proficiency will be required.

Many believe that the impetus for this language rule is the upcoming ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) launch, and with it the anticipation of a large increase of workers from ASEAN member nations coming to Indonesia.

Even with that, more than a few were caught off guard by this news after Indonesia President Joko Widodo promised in late 2014 to ease restrictions on foreign investment in the country.

The Wall Street Journal reports, “The language directive is exposing rifts within the new administration of Mr. Widodo, who last week traveled to China and Japan to drum up interest in building ports, power plants, and other infrastructure Indonesia can’t build on its own. A presidential policy adviser acknowledged that the language rule ‘works at cross-purposes’ with the president’s foreign-investment objectives.”

It is said that the language rule seems to be working towards maintaining a nationalist mindset in the interest of protecting local workers, resources, and industry. While this sentiment is not unreasonable, it still creates more speculation on lasting repercussions of regulations such as this.

It is perhaps interesting to note that neighboring nations, who have long competed with Indonesia for foreign investment, do not have any language requirements for foreigners applying for work visas.

The language rule is just one of many measures in place to protect the local populace from outside competition for jobs. Banking and oil, to name but a few, have numerous restrictions on positions available, validity of visas, and age caps when it comes to foreign applicants. Even in the Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) world, Indonesia is known for unreasonably strict requirements for English teaching posts.

Still, the Labor Ministry doubts that this latest law will have any real effect on foreign investment. Really?

U.S. mining company Freeport-McMoRan Inc. currently provides language training to its foreign workers. The mining outfit is one of the world’s largest and is also Indonesia’s largest single source of tax revenue. In January, the company announced plans to invest US$17 billion on both gold and copper mine development in Indonesia.

Will the training that Freeport-McMoRan currently provides meet the language rule requirements? Or will time, effort, and money need to be increased? If so, how drastically are we talking? And what of those companies that are not a large multinational? What of the countless small to mid-sized companies that will be (heavily) burdened if the Labor Ministry follows through with this?

There is nothing wrong with learning the local language if working in another country… but… considering how many workers are on short-term visas (and need to earn money, not sit in class), there is limited use (if any) for the ability to speak Indonesian once their contract is up.

For now, we’ll just have to wait and see to what extent Indonesia actually applies this new rule. If the Labor Ministry holds a firm stance on this, Southeast Asia’s largest economy will come off as even less attractive to set up shop.


  • Maria

    Seems a little short sighted. How will you attract foreign investors with this type of law? Perhaps they can reach some sort of compromise with protecting local workers and encouraging investment.

  • big in japan

    completely agreed … is extremely short sighted. and without sounding too crude/rude/ignorant here, it’s not as if Bahasa Indonesia is an international business language.