It kept coming up in conversations during my trip to Indonesia: the fact that the United States is a difficult country for Indonesians to visit. First, the US requires Indonesians to undergo an interview before they can get a visa. And if your name is Mohammad, well, forget it -- or so I was told.
"I knew a Mohammed, great guy, an engineer, an employee at (name of big US company). He was denied a visa at the interview. So he couldn't visit headquarters. Of course, with a name like Mohammed, what did he expect?" said one Indonesian male in his late twenties.
"If I didn't have to go on business, I would never choose to travel to the US -- because of the way they treat visitors," said an Indonesian woman -- an executive at another US company in Jakarta. She told me that she had been made to wait for hours in the hot sun outside the US Embassy -- just to have her visa interview ("they don't even have the courtesy to provide a shelter for those waiting outside"). When this lady got to the front of the line, she was told she had to come back another day. The wait for a visa interview was over a month.
How does one do business with Americans if the US makes you wait so long for a visa? Why would any Indonesian choose to trade or do business with the United States?
Indonesia is hardly an exception. Only 27 countries have visa-waivers for the US -- Europe, Australia, Japan, etc. You would think the citizens of these countries have an easier time of it. Suprisingly, that's not necessarily the case.