Bali is known as a digital entrepreneur’s paradise. Before the pandemic, Nomad List reported that there were 5,000 digital nomads working at one point on Canggu Beach. Remote workers have flocked to Bali to enjoy the benefits of modern coworking and coliving spaces, with optimal Wi-Fi, plenty of networking and skills upgrading opportunities, and an affordable yet luxurious lifestyle. . But the recent overseas travel ban and the expulsion of two travel influencers, Kristen Gray and Sergei Kosenko, indicate that digital nomads may have passed their welcome.
This 21st century race of remote workers is seen to live freely in any country of their choice. But this freedom seems uncomfortably colonial when it comes to the detriment of local communities.
In Sergei Kosenko’s case, he rose to fame when he threw a motorcycle into the ocean as part of a social media stunt for his 4.9 million followers. The action was condemned by many as reckless and dangerous for the environment. Immigration officials then deported him for breaking lockdown rules and hosting a mass rally of more than 50 people.
Kristen Gray’s viral Twitter thread on how to move to queer-friendly Bali has sparked an uproar within the Balinese LGBTQ + community. It is true that Bali is generally LGBTQ + friendly, due to its liberal Hindu culture, which is distinct from the rest of predominantly Muslim Indonesia. However, the whole country has suffered from violent attacks against this community in recent years, fueled by pressure from ultra-conservative groups. For locals, anti-LGBTQ + sentiment is inescapable. Gray’s statement ignored local experiences, reiterating the contrast in treatment between expats and locals. She added fuel to the fire by promoting her $ 30 (Â£ 22) eBook, encouraging people to visit Bali and avoid both obeying local laws and paying local taxes.
At a press conference, Jamaruli Manihuruk, of the Bali Ministry of Law and Human Rights, said Gray allegedly violated several immigration laws, including “spreading information that could destabilize the public”. Local communities noted that these actions reflected the problem of Western visitors exploiting Bali’s culture for their own benefit while not respecting the people who live there.
Historically, authorities have unofficially tolerated digital nomads who stay in Bali for long periods of time without paying taxes. While global lockdowns have led countries, including Estonia and Thailand, to launch digital nomadic visas to bolster their economies, Indonesia’s current visa policies allow many remote workers to live semi-existence. – legal.
Indonesian Immigration Law 2011 requires international employees of Indonesian companies to obtain either a temporary (KITAS) or permanent (KITAP) visa. However, the law does not explicitly regulate anyone who works remotely for international companies. This legal loophole has led some remote workers to extend their single entry visas by 30 or 60 days by carrying out brief âvisa circuitsâ to neighboring countries. But recent evictions have served as a reminder of the potential risks posed by anyone living in the legal âgray zoneâ.
Michael Craig, owner of Dojo Bali Coworking, said, âAnyone with skills and expertise doesn’t consider themselves to be a digital nomad. Independent Location Professionals are real entrepreneurs with existing skills, working for real companies. Real wealthy people who are serious about staying get business visas and invest in the local community. ”
From an official point of view, the Indonesian government appears to be seeking to resolve the legal vacuum. New Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno said the ministry seeks to promote a “work from destination” approach that would allow digital workers to work from tourist destinations as part of of the economic recovery program after the pandemic. Before the outbreak, around 58% of Bali’s GDP was attributed to tourism, which meant that the ban on international travel last year made the island’s economy the worst hit in Indonesia. Could visas and taxation of digital nomads help revive Bali’s economy? âWe must take it seriously that all tourism and creative economy activity refers to the laws and regulations in force. And we welcome them, âUno said.
While official policy changes may take a long time to come through, recent controversies surrounding influencers prove that locals are willing to tell Westerners to verify their privilege. “Thank you to Bali Immigration for reaffirming and applying the law so that the dignity of the nation is not trampled underfoot by those who abuse and misunderstand the friendliness of Indonesians as a green light to do whatever they want”, Ni Luh Djelantik, a social activist who lives in Bali, advertised on Instagram.
âMore locals need to voice their opinions, but they should also take advantage of the genuine talent coming to Bali,â said Michael Craig. âIt is our responsibility to connect local communities with high-level expatriates through our social impact programs.â Dojo Bali Coworking contributes to outreach and community outreach programs in Bali and across Indonesia.
For geographic independence to be sustainable anywhere, recent events (including the deportations of Gray and Krosenko) show that an understanding of local laws, community and culture is of utmost importance.