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Asia Minute: Indonesia: Work Local, Speak Local

Gunawan Kartapranata
Wikimedia Commons

The Trump Administration is reviewing rules about foreign investment in the United States. But it’s not the only government taking a closer look at how foreign businesses operate in other countries. And last week, that sparked some confusion in Indonesia.

The news last week was surprising to some: expatriate executives working in Indonesia would have to speak the local language. The New York Times headlined its story saying “Indonesia’s Order to Foreign Workers: Learn the Language.”

It’s been a sensitive issue for years.

Back in 2015, the Jakarta Globe reported a draft regulation under consideration would have required any foreigner to master the language Bahasa Indonesia before a work permit would even be issued.

Many Indonesians are multi-lingual. According to the government’s count, the Island archipelago includes more than 700 indigenous local languages — from Javanese to Balinese and Acehnese.

Indonesians wanting to work in places like the United States or Australia often need to pass certain English language tests. But the move for mastery of Bahasa Indonesia scared a number of overseas companies — from technology firms to banks.

Credit Muhammad Rasyid Prabowo / Flickr
Jakarta, 2012

Late last week, The Jakarta Post quoted a presidential spokesman as saying there won’t be any tests after all — just education.

The new regulation will require employers to provide foreign workers with Indonesian language training.

As for further details, that language is still being drafted. . .presumably before it gets translated.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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