An elderly detainee who underwent 36 days at the Immigration Detention Centre Denpasar has revealed her story about getting scammed by a visa agent
At the end of July 2020, the Indonesian immigration department announced that the emergency visa was no longer valid and foreigners need to apply for a social visa or leave. Panic flared up due to the COVID-19 pandemic; travelling was restricted and there were no clear guidelines from immigration. I opted to stay in Ubud, Bali and apply for a social visa, a B211A, considering the risks of travelling during the pandemic and the absence of return flights to my home country.
With application deadlines very near and not having a local sponsor, I had to quickly find a visa agent. I was recommended a visa agent in Denpasar and applied for its services.
After months of false promises, deceptive behaviour, delaying tactics, chasing up my social visa extension, and trying to get my passport back from this agent, I discovered to my genuine horror that I had overstayed by 54 days with a fee of Rp1 million per day. I owed Rp54 million to immigration, in total. I couldn’t afford it and I didn’t feel it was fair to pay this huge debt since it was a direct result of my agent’s negligence. Instead, I was drenched in false hope, being told not to worry, and been given excuses at every turn.
I was sure that if I took this timeline and information with all the WhatsApp correspondence printed out to immigration, they would also see that my agent had acted negligently. I thought I would be assisted with a suitable solution. On the contrary, my agent was not held accountable for his behaviour and I was given no choice but to be deported. Deportation processes can only proceed after 60 days elapsed, so I was asked to come back later.
This agent’s last correspondence with me was to offer another solution. I was implored to give my trust and fly to Jakarta where an immigration officer could wave me through without stopping me for my overstay. I quickly dismissed this ludicrous option. How could I finally trust this person after all that had been done to put me in this predicament?
Denpasar Immigration ultimately took away my passport and I was given a lengthy interview. Immigration assured me several times that:
- I would not have to pay the overstay after 60 days as the agent/sponsor was responsible.
- There would be no escort fees.
- I would be in the Detention Centre for about two to three days. I could leave as soon as I booked a flight ticket. However, I was not allowed to book my flight and leave within days without going to the Detention Centre or have a pre-booked air ticket for a couple of days after arriving at the Detention Centre.
- I would have full access to my phone, laptop, etc.
- I would be free to walk about at the Detention Centre but would not be able to leave the premises.
Four people in total went into the detention centre on the same day, all conned by this visa agent. We had all individually been informed the same. Apart from not having to pay the overstay, categories two to five stated above were all completely incorrect.
We were all pretty shocked upon arrival at the detention centre. An immense security presence made us feel like common criminals and no sense of empathy was present. We were given 10 minutes to call our families and our country’s respective consulates or embassies, which was fairly impractical.
Our possessions were searched and confiscated, including our phones and laptops. Despite having done medical and rapid tests, we were immediately put into quarantine for 14 days. We were mostly locked in our cells, only allowed out once a week to use our phones for an hour.
After the initial two weeks, the four of us were allowed out of our cells, the women for six hours and the men for four hours a day. I’m not sure why the women got extra hours, though. We were only allowed to use our phones twice a week for an hour, unless there was a ceremony day that happened to fall on that “phone day”. We wouldn’t get another day as a replacement either. With these missed days of communication, important calls to the embassy were delayed, further putting pressure on the arrangements that needed to be made. I had one week with no communication to the front office responsible for arranging the deportations.
No visitors were allowed unless they are immediate family or your consul. Visitors could only come on either a Tuesday or Thursday to visit. Then, I received three small meals each day, with little substance or nutritional value. You can have food delivered by friends. On several occasions, what was delivered and what you actually got were two different things. Yes, the staff helped themselves to the food items delivered for you.
The cells were very basic; dirty mattresses supplied with no bedding, mice ran around the cells and courtyard every night, and every detainee was supposed to be given basic essentials like soap, mosquito repellent, and washing powder. Most of us didn’t receive anything despite requesting these essential items on several occasions. I had little to no essentials during my first two weeks stuck in quarantine. Basic mini-mart shopping was allowed once a week to stock up on these essentials.
During my stay, the quickest I saw an overstay detainee leave was exactly three weeks after arriving. The quickest way to get deported is to say at the first opportunity that you would like to book your flight and pay the escort fee as soon as possible. I was informed by the front office that my visa agent was paying for my flights and deportation fees for escorts. I should have known this narrative would never become reality. Again, this visa agent inflicted false hope to me at my most vulnerable state. In hindsight, I should have got a date from the front office and booked on a specific date.
The best and cheapest way is for a friend or family member to book the flight for you and send the details to the office. One has to check with the airlines involved if they are happy to take deportees. Some airlines will take approximately two weeks to give permission.
Despite what immigration says at your interview process, it currently costs about Rp8.5 million per deportation which includes flights and COVID-19 tests for the detainee and two immigration officers escorting you from Bali to Jakarta. There was no choice – everyone has to pay, but it may change when Ngurah Rai’s international routes reopen.
Regardless of the moral, ethical, and financial obligation of my visa agent to pay these costs, not a single Rupiah was spent. A formal agreement between my visa agent and consul stated that my ticket and deportation costs would be paid, while only Rp4.5 million was paid.
Make your own mind up on this. This visa agent has taken people’s money and not delivered the services. As a result, hefty overstay fees have been incurred. Some paid whereas others decided not to and rather chose to be deported. After my experience, knowing what I know now, I would NOT have allowed Denpasar Immigration to take my passport and gone straight to Jakarta’s Immigration office to be deported from there.
There have been times in which detainees have had to book several tickets and paid several times before they were finally allowed to fly. I found it very business-like and controlling by the front office staff who appeared to have no sense of urgency in trying to expedite the deportation process.
Most detainees, including myself, were very stressed, angry, and frustrated. One of the detainees who has been there for six months told me he had witnessed four people attempting suicide in their first five months; one of which was fatal while another had tried three times. There is a lack of empathy with little or no understanding of real mental health issues. There is no distinction between detainees since we are all viewed as criminals in the eyes of the staff, despite us falling victims to the wrongdoings of visa agents.
As a seasoned traveller, having gone to many “dodgy” countries, this was by far my worst travel experience and a very traumatic one for my family and me. Never could I ever imagine anything like being locked up and having to throw myself at the mercy of immigration in such a popular, international travel destination. The worst part is the local immigration and police haven’t done anything to hold this crooked, scamming visa agent accountable, although this case has been very well documented and has affected so many people.
I hoped that Bali Immigration would have dealt with this whole situation better and given some leniency to such victims, especially considering the COVID-19 pandemic. We came forward and told our stories, many had police statements and had lawyers acting on their behalf too.
This injustice has left painful memories of what was supposed to be a beautiful time in Bali. I’d never believed I’d spend 36 days in detention. If it can happen to me, it can happen to others whose faith is misplaced in a visa agent. If you believe by unravelling your case to Bali’s immigration that fairness will prevail, think again and be warned.