Citizenship matters

In favor of mixing it up: The former minister of justice and human  rights Hamid Awaludin (left) argues in favor of dual citizenship for  children from mixed marriages, while Enggi Holt (center), the KPC Melati  chairwoman and actress Maudy Koesnaedi listen attentively.  JP/J.  Adiguna

Prior to the 2006 Citizenship Law, Indonesian women married to foreign men and living in Indonesia spent fortunes and countless weekends ferrying their children out of Indonesia on visa runs, as their children were automatically registered as citizens of their father’s country.

The law finally gave mixed marriage couples the right to apply for dual citizenship for their children born before 2006. Children born after 2006 automatically receive the dual citizenship.

“Of course, that was the answer we were all waiting for,” says Rulita Anggraini, chairwoman of PerCa Indonesia, an organization for mixed marriage couples.

PerCa Indonesia had been lobbying for the government to change the old law.

“We argued two important points,” Rulita says.

“First, the old citizenship law discriminated against Indonesian women, and second, our children were not protected.”

According to Rulita, many members of PerCa Indonesia have already applied for dual citizenship for their children. These families can now live in Indonesia without having to worry about extending their children’s visas.

Nura, who lives in South Jakarta, applied for her children’s dual citizenship one-and-a-half years ago. Her and her English husband have two boys born before 2006.

“The dual citizenship is of course quite a good thing for us,” Nura says. In 2004, the family moved back to Indonesia after living in Sydney for a few years.

“Until the new law was adopted, I had to extend the visa for my children every month.”
Courtesy of PerCa Indonesia

Icha Murane and her American husband have two children. Their son was born in 2008, so he was automatically granted dual citizenship.

“But we had to apply for our daughter who is five years old now,” Icha says. She started the application process last June.

“I was late [to apply], because we lived in the US between 2007 and 2008.”

When she came back to Indonesia, she gave birth to her second child.

“There were so many things to do, I could never find the time to get everything done,” Icha says. About one week ago, she finally celebrated her daughter’s dual citizenship.

The dual citizenship application process must be completed by August this year, Rulita warns.

PerCa Indonesia fears many mixed marriage couples are still unaware of the deadline.

“Some people are still in the middle of the process,” Juliani W. Luthan, head of the development program of PerCa Indonesia says. “But sometimes you talk to friends of friends, and they don’t know about the deadline.”

Nura found out about the deadline by attending a seminar arranged by Srikandi, an association of Indonesian women in multinational marriages.

“A friend of mine who is a member of Srikandi told me about the new law,” Nura says. Nura subsequently became a member of the organization.

Although Icha applied quite late for her daughter’s dual citizenship, she knew about the deadline, which is why she started applying last year, as she knew it would take a while.

Icha found out about the new law through one of her friends who is a member of KPC Melati, a community of Indonesian women in transnational marriages.

Organizations like PerCa Indonesia bring to transnational couple’s attention the benefits of applying for dual citizenship for their children.

Women power: Amalia Wirhono of KPC Melati, singer Titi DJ, lawyer  Eleonora S. Moniung and actress Maudy Koesnaedi (from left to right),  all lobbying for regulation addressing mixed marriages in Indonesia,  attend a meeting at the Justice and Human Rights Ministry in Jakarta in  2006.  JP/J. Adiguna

“Many just don’t realize they have to get things done now,” Juliani says.

Icha says she didn’t experience any problems during the application process.

“I had many friends who had already done it, so I knew where to go and what to do,” she says.

People have become more familiar with the law in the last three years.

Nura also found the process effortless, except for one minor incident.

“One of the immigration officials asked me for additional money,” Nura says. “A friend had already told me before not to pay them more than Rp 150,000 for both children.”

The dual citizenship process costs Rp 500,000 per child.

Although mixed marriage couples can now apply for dual citizenship for their children, their offsprings will still have to choose one of two nationalities when they turn 18.

Icha doesn’t know how she will feel when her daughter will have to make that decision in 13 years time.

“I can’t say for sure right now,” she admits. “But if I could choose, it would be preferable if my daughter could hold both citizenships forever,” she says.

Nura concurs.

“If I was able to choose, I would prefer they had both [citizenships],” she laughs.

But she knows her children will need to decide. Nura would go for the foreign citizenship if she had to decide for her children.

“But it would be good to be able to get a permanent residency visa for Indonesia too,” she says. When asked if she had any idea how her children would decide, Nura could not answer.

“You know, my children are still too young, so they don’t know yet that they’ll have to choose when they are older.”

PerCa Indonesia actively discusses this question within its organization.

“We do brainstorming with children who will soon turn 18,” Rulita says.

“The question is, what comes next?” PerCa wants to focus its efforts on this issue.

“It is just a natural next step after the new citizenship law to think about the possibility of getting a permanent residency visa,” Juliani says.

Rulita points out that it is possible for children from mixed marriages in other Asian countries like Singapore to apply for permanent residency and hold another citizenship.

A permanent residency visa would be a new concept in Indonesia.

“Of course it is a working process,” Juliani admits. “But we hope it will come.”

Rulita argues that if children decide to get the foreign citizenship, the state cannot deny they are still half Indonesian used to be Indonesian citizens before. Therefore a permanent residence visa would be a suitable solution.

“For me and most other people in the same situation, I think we would prefer for this to happen, because it would be most convenient,” Icha says.

“If the children say they prefer to keep their father’s citizenship, eventually they will also want to go back to where they come from.”