Indonesia: Indonesia enters talent war with ChatGPT golden visa


Published: 11 September 2023

Indonesia is the latest country to launch a golden visa programme and has kickstarted the scheme by granting the first residence permit to a surprising recipient: ChatGPT founder Sam Altman.

Golden visas are the colloquial name for residence-by-investment programmes which see governments issue stay permits to foreign individuals in exchange for setting up new companies, buying properties or investing in funds. 

But the programme launched by south-east Asia’s biggest economy on August 30 takes a different spin, making its 10-year golden visas also available to ‘notable individuals’ nominated by the government. 

This pathway is offered to “well-known figures with an international reputation [who] can benefit Indonesia”, said the country’s director general of immigration, Silmy Karim, in a September 4 statement. That same day, the government granted the first golden visa to Mr Altman — the man behind the artificial intelligence (AI)-powered ChatGPT — stating it expected him to contribute to Indonesia’s AI ecosystem. It is not clear if Mr Altman, who visited Indonesia in June, applied for the permit or was granted it unilaterally. 

His visa is a sign “that Indonesia would like to attract talent and investors from digital business sectors”, says Primadi Wahyuwidagdo Soerjosoemanto, principal of consultancy Bright Indonesia. Since launching its AI strategy in 2020, the government has established an AI and Cybersecurity Research Centre which is working on AI regulations to take effect by 2025. However, Mr Soerjosoemanto notes the country has “no specific lead-generation programmes for attracting global tech investors [from] Silicon Valley, Guangzhou, Bangalore” or other innovation hubs. He believes golden visas could be used as a tool to help fill this gap. 

We face a formidable challenge in the form of an inadequately skilled and qualified workforce. This new golden visa policy undoubtedly holds the potential to contribute to Indonesia’s workforce by facilitating the transfer of knowledge.

Jennifer Halim, consultant, Dezan Shira & Associates

Government officials have told local press that intellectuals, researchers and graduates from top universities could also qualify for the notable persons pathway. Using golden visas to woo foreign talent could help tackle one of the country’s biggest perceived hurdles in attracting FDI. “We face a formidable challenge in the form of an inadequately skilled and qualified workforce,” says Jennifer Halim, consultant at Dezan Shira & Associates in Jakarta. “This new golden visa policy undoubtedly holds the potential to contribute to Indonesia’s workforce by facilitating the transfer of knowledge.”

By focusing on talent as much as investment, Ariyo Dharma Pahla Irhamna, an economist at the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance, notes Indonesia has drawn inspiration from the UAE, which in 2019 rolled out a golden visa programme for investors, professionals and so-called ‘exceptional talents’. 

Long-term benefits

Expanding its local talent pool will help Indonesia’s long-term investment prospects, but some on the ground are sceptical about golden visas’ ability to boost FDI in the short term. Mr Soerjosoemanto expects it to attract small and mid-tier wealthy investors, but stresses it will not cut through the bureaucracy and corruption that hinder the flow of big business.

“There is a high degree of competition [for investment] among countries in south-east Asia, such as SingaporeMalaysia and Thailand, which have issued similar immigration policies,” says Ms Halim, noting the latter two have lower financial requirements than Indonesia. 

To obtain Indonesia’s five-year golden visa, individuals must invest $2.5m to establish a new company. For corporates, the figure is $25m. Alternatively individuals can invest $350,000 in local bonds, shares or funds. A similar residence permit in Malaysia requires a RM1m ($214,00) bank deposit while Thailand’s elite visa is available for a Bt600,000 ($17,000) one-time fee. 

Nonetheless, maybe Indonesia can wait to enjoy the golden visa’s benefits of a stronger workforce. According to fDi Markets, over the first seven months of the year it was the world’s fifth biggest recipient of announced FDI. Based on that same data, Indonesia is on track to post a record high $53.1bn-worth of projects by the end of the year.

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