An inefficient process
As a foreign researcher in Indonesia, I will undoubtedly visit the immigration office at some point regardless of my enthusiasm for collecting documents and paying fees. As the current system functions, a foreign researcher is entitled to a limited stay permit for the duration of his/her proposed research, also known as an Izin Tinggal Terbatas or KITAS. Since these are handed out to nearly all foreigners who spend some length of time in the country for reasons other than tourism (family visit, research, etc.), the process has improved and become fairly straight forward. Yet, the interactions at the immigration office continue to be inefficient and frustrating.
For instance, a simple online search for the local immigration office will likely pull up a corresponding website with several options for local residents and foreigners. In Bandung, I was pleasantly surprised to find a link to the KITAS criteria. Unfortunately, this information cannot be trusted because after visiting the immigration in person, one finds that there are in fact other letters required that are not mentioned. And so begins the series of visits to the office that could be avoided had the information been updated in the first place. For a new visitor to the country who has not been around the bureaucratic-block before, it could be very unclear what needs to go into the body of a surat permohonan (letter of request) or a surat rekomendasi (recommendation letter). An example letter would clarify what foriegners are expected to obtain.
The multiple visits, however, do not end once the required documents are clear. After submitting a complete file for a KITAS, we are told to return a few days later to make the obligatory payment. It remains unclear why this step cannot be bundled into another one because it becomes very cumbersome to make a trip simply to make a payment. Once the payment is received, an official will invite you to return the following day to have your picture taken. I suppose we should be thankful that the office now takes their own electronic photos instead of asking us to provide some obscure size on an unusual background color. Still, why not go one more step and have photos taken upon receipt of payment? Following the digital photo, we are asked to return yet again about a week later to pick up the completed KITAS.
At the very least, two simple improvements to this process are to 1) update and check the accuracy of the information online so that it matches what is actually requested in the office and 2) bundle the steps together so that foreigners are not obliged to make so many trips to this office. Then we would be able to give a genuine smile when we arrive.
A simple mistake… or a poor attempt to fool customers?
During my most recent experience at the immigration office in Bandung, an apparent mistake occurred when I was given an invoice to pay my KITAS fee. Although I made my request for six months (and all of my required documents stated such) the invoice said that I should pay for a 1-year KITAS. I gave them the benefit of the doubt and assumed that I was going to be granted 1 year (perhaps they do not issue six-month extensions, I thought). In hindsight, one should never assume anything could be that simple. Having paid for 1-year and posed for my digital photo, I returned to pick up my new electronic KITAS. But any relief I had quickly dissipated when I saw 6-months on the new card – the process was not finished after all.
I immediately approached the woman at the counter and drew her attention to the discrepancy between my payment and the new card. Believe it or not, her first response was to ask me why I had not brought up the issue before paying. I tried to hide my bewilderment that I should question the documents that are issued from their office, and instead tried to believe that someone had made a simple mistake that could be easily corrected with a refund of over-payment I made. By now I should know better – refunds in Indonesia are like trying to take candy back from a baby. They still often occur grudgingly with a long, convoluted process of paperwork and signatures, if they occur at all.
After some consultation in the back, I was told that even though the immigration officials acknowledged the mistake, I could not get my money back because all the money from the office had already been stored in the national bank. Apparently, this had occurred conveniently the day after I paid my fee. Undeterred, I returned the following day with my Indonesian counterpart (aka spouse) and we made it clear that we were going to wait patiently until they returned the money that was owed to us. Surprising to me, the cashier department never did succumb to return the money. Instead, after several minutes of discussing in the back, they directed us back to the counter for foreign services where an official – as willing as a toddler giving up candy he is not supposed to eat – presented the money from inside his desk. His explanation was that he was using his own funds to make the refund! I should have left well enough alone, but I began to protest saying that it should not be his own money. It was at this point that I received a discreet tap on my foot from my wife indicating that it was not worth taking the matter any further.
So I am left wondering now whether these mistakes occur unintentionally or if there is some calculation, knowing that most customers will accept their unwillingness to make a refund.