Amidst a rise in the number of foreigners operating illegal business services in Bali, local officials are setting up a special task force to crack down on those working illegally. The announcement comes as dialogue online has been increasing. Prominent figures such as Ni Luh Djelantik and a new social media account called @moscow_cabang_bali seem to have helped heightened public awareness of the issue.
Speaking to the press on Monday 27th February, the Head of the Provincial Tourism Office, Tjok Bagus Pemayun, said that a special task force is being created to tackle the issue. Their main focus will be to crack down on foreigners who are working illegally in Bali. He told reporters, “we have the municipal police (Saptoll PP), the Manpower and Energy and Mineral Resources Office, the Industry and Trade Office for the permitting aspect, and the complete police apparatus in the task force.”
Although the task force will act upon all cases of foreigners working illegally in Bali, there appears to be a specific focus on Russian nationals. Since the war broke out, there has been a surge in the arrival of Russian nationals in Bali. There has been much discussion online about the impact and influence the surge in arrivals has had on the island.
Amidst all the conflicting opinions, the underlying consensus from netizens and officials is that foreigners conducting activities that go against their visa conditions must be stopped. After travelers from Australia, travelers from Russia were the second-most frequent arrivals in Bali in January 2023.
Pemayun has confirmed that the government will keep a close eye on foreigners to ensure that they are adhering to their visa conditions. He added, “everything must follow the regulation, and a holder of a tourist visa cannot work. The task force will monitor the activities if they are working here”.
Some would argue that the socio-cultural visa, also dubbed as the digital nomad visa by the Minster of Tourism himself, creates a grey area when it comes to ‘work’. However, that’s not the case. The Department of Immigration website stipulates clearly the activities that are permitted on a visa-on-arrival or socio-cultural visas. The socio-cultural visa allows visitors to conduct leisure, social, cultural, and some specific very business-related activities.
This means that digital nomads who work online and generate income through employment or as part of their businesses registered abroad, and those who conduct income-generating activities outside of Indonesia, can continue to tap away on their laptops just fine. In fact, this is what the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economies have repeatedly said they want to see more of. They want to promote Bali as a destination were remote workers can enjoy a decent work-life balance and spend their income in a way that supports the provincial economy.
What foreigners on visitor or social visas cannot do is conduct work that generates income from within Indonesia or work ‘on the ground’ or in-person in any capacity. This includes running yoga classes, photography services, life coaching sessions in person, surf lessons, or selling products. This also includes sub-letting rental properties, tour guiding, and babysitting. All of these kinds of work and business activities require foreigners to acquire the relevant work and/or business permits.
Pemyaun concluded, “I cannot determine (the sanctions), but we will follow all regulations. Any deportations will be done if necessary. We have no target, as our focus is to follow all regulations”.
The announcement of the task force was also confirmed by Bali’s Deputy Governor Cok Ace. He has assured the press that the launch of the task force does not mean he has a problem with foreigners working in Bali legally. He noted that some roles could be best filled by members of the international community. Cok Ace said that the issue lies with undocumented workers conducting activities that are not permitted on their visas.
The Deputy Governor used specific examples of foreign wedding photographers offering their services in Bali. He said, “They [foreign couples] usually invite [international] photographers because they think that this photographer understands better which angle is good to take. It’s actually illegal too.”
He concluded, ‘especially now that the world conditions that occur abroad then we compare in Bali which are safe and cheap, therefore we have to move, I heard the reports, there are also many of them, they even trade and sell vegetables to their friends, take them in this market, we need to follow, I have conveyed. Yes, among others, Russia and Ukraine.”
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