Balinese authorities want to abolish Indonesia’s visa-on-arrival policy for Russian and Ukrainian citizens due to incidents of misbehavior, visa overstays, and illegal work.
Bali, the tropical island paradise in Indonesia, has become a popular destination for Russian and Ukrainian tourists escaping the horrors of war. In 2022, 58,000 Russians visited the island, with an additional 22,500 arriving in January 2023 alone, making them the second biggest group of visitors after Australians. In the same year, over 7,000 Ukrainians also visited the island. However, reports of alleged incidents involving misbehavior, visa overstays, and illegal work by Russians and Ukrainians have prompted the Balinese authorities to call for the end of Indonesia’s visa-on-arrival policy for citizens of Russia and Ukraine.
Bali, a Haven for War-Weary Tourists
Since the invasion of Ukraine by Russian President Vladimir Putin in February 2022, Bali has once again become a magnet for thousands of Russians and Ukrainians seeking to escape the horrors of war. Bali’s balmy beaches, laid-back lifestyles, and holiday vibe make it an attractive destination for world-weary travelers, especially those fleeing a war zone.
Despite the travel restrictions imposed by the Ukrainian government, over 7,000 Ukrainians visited Bali in 2022, with an additional 2,500 arriving in the first month of 2023. Meanwhile, 58,000 Russians visited Bali in 2022, with an additional 22,500 arriving in January 2023 alone. The influx of tourists from these two countries is due to the ongoing war, with many people fleeing violence or the draft.
Incidents of Misbehavior and Visa Overstays
The Balinese authorities have recently called for the end of Indonesia’s visa-on-arrival policy for citizens of Russia and Ukraine due to a spate of alleged incidents involving misbehavior and visa overstays. Many Ukrainians on the island claim that most of the incidents involve Russians and that they are being unfairly tarred with the same brush.
Balinese authorities are all set to make an example of Russians and Ukrainians amid rising public debate over perceptions of their conduct. Foreigners of various nationalities regularly make headlines in Bali for drunk and inappropriate behavior, public nudity, and disrespecting sacred sites. However, the Balinese authorities are targeting Russians and Ukrainians due to the rising number of incidents.
In response to the Balinese authorities’ call, the Russian embassy in Indonesia did not immediately respond, while Ukraine’s Honorary Consulate in Bali said that Ukrainians in the country were mostly women, there for family unification reasons rather than tourism and that they did “not want to violate the rules and regulations.”
Impact on Indonesia’s Tourism Industry
Indonesia’s tourism industry has suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the influx of Russian and Ukrainian tourists has brought some relief. Bali was already a favorite with Russian tourists before the war, and its attractions have become even more appealing in the wake of Putin’s grinding invasion and subsequent mobilization.
Many Russian tourists have invested in property in Phuket, southern Thailand, another popular beach destination in Southeast Asia. The influx of Russian arrivals to Phuket has prompted some to invest in property to ensure they can enjoy long-term stays. Many tourists from Russia and Ukraine have also flown to Bali and Phuket as tourists but have ended up staying to work illegally as hairdressers, unauthorized tour guides, and taxi drivers, leading to incidents of visa overstays.
Ukranians Fear a Possible Return
News of the possible change to the visa rules has upset some of the Ukrainians on the island, many of whom left their homeland when war broke out and have been struggling to make ends meet ever since. Some have taken to social media to protest the proposed visa changes, while others fear that they may have to leave and return to a war zone. For now, it remains to be seen whether Indonesian authorities will heed the calls to end the visa-on-arrival policy for Russian and Ukrainian tourists, or whether they will find a way to address the alleged misbehavior and overstaying of visas by some visitors.
In the meantime, Bali’s status as a haven for those seeking refuge from the horrors of war looks set to continue, even as the island’s authorities struggle to balance the competing demands of tourism and security.