Scholarly article on topic 'Potential Social Capital of Indonesian Immigrant in Malaysia: A Preliminary Research'

Potential Social Capital of Indonesian Immigrant in Malaysia: A Preliminary Research Academic research paper on "Economics and business"

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Abstract of research paper on Economics and business, author of scientific article — Tunira Hasanah

Abstract Indonesian immigrants, as the highest number of immigrant population in Malaysia, have developed a specific networking and activities among themselves where social capital can be found. The network benefits not only the individual but also the groups of community with various social strata. The presence of cultural uniqueness has intertwined with their strong spirit of nationalism and caring for fellow migrants. In this situation, there is abundant social capital of Indonesian immigrants that can be explored to benefit groups and individuals in supporting their coping strategies. Furthermore, the availability of social capital may enhance development effort in the host country.

Academic research paper on topic "Potential Social Capital of Indonesian Immigrant in Malaysia: A Preliminary Research"

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ELSEVIER Procedía - Social and Behavioral Sciences 211 (2015) 383 - 389

Social and Behavioral Sciences

2nd Global Conference on Business and Social Science-2015, GCBSS-2015, 17-18 September

2015, Bali, Indonesia

Potential Social Capital of Indonesian Immigrant in Malaysia: A

Preliminary Research

Indonesian immigrants, as the highest number of immigrant population in Malaysia, have developed a specific networking and activities among themselves where social capital can be found. The network benefits not only the individual but also the groups of community with various social strata. The presence of cultural uniqueness has intertwined with their strong spirit of nationalism and caring for fellow migrants. In this situation, there is abundant social capital of Indonesian immigrants that can be explored to benefit groups and individuals in supporting their coping strategies. Furthermore, the availability of social capital may enhance development effort in the host country.

© 2015Publishedby ElsevierLtd. This isanopenaccess article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of the Organizing Committee of the 2nd GCBSS-2015 Keywords: Social Capital; Immigrant; Networking.

1. Introduction

Putnam (2002) has revealed that social capital comprises multidimensional aspects and they are subject to different understanding. However, a number of scholars have actively discussed and disseminated the terminology, and the social capital discourses have emerged intensively in 1990s through the works of scholars such as Francis Fukuyama, Christiaan Grootaert, Deepa Narayan, etc. As social capital encompasses multifaceted features, it has been applied to various subjects such as social, economic, health, etc., including immigrant-related matters.

* Corresponding author. Tel.:+60-11-1434-1030. E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2015 Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (

Peer-review under responsibility of the Organizing Committee of the 2nd GCBSS-2015 doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.11.050

Tunira Hasanah *

Faculty of Built Environment University Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


According to Portes and Bach (1985), international migration is not a homogenous process. It includes refugee's movement, flows of skilled technician and professional in searching better opportunities, and massive displacement of manual labor moving temporarily and permanently to meet the labor need in destination country. Indonesian immigrants in Malaysia consist of groups of labor, professional worker, and also businessman. The wave of migration can be categorized into several time periods from the point of view of political and economic conditions. As a result the immigrants can be differentiated into a number of groups based on ethnicity, state of economy, and social background. These were common conditions where immigrant's network could become a potential source of social capital (BankstonIII, 2014). As there is abundance of Indonesian immigrants in Malaysia, there lies the prospect of social capital presence.

The migration of Indonesian people to Malaysia has taken place since a long time ago. The waves of Indonesian immigrant influx to Malaysia have been the highest in number for more than a decade. According to Kassim (1998), Indonesian workers for the period of 1992-1996 make up 54-70% of total migrant workers in Malaysia. The same condition has been reported by Sirat and Ghazali (2011) who develop data for Economic Planning Unit, Prime Minister's Department, who reported that the composition of Indonesian workers in the period of 1999-2008 is 5066% of total.

This article aims to stage the potential of social capital of Indonesian immigrants in Malaysia. The content of this paper is mainly based on the author's three years observation (June 2012- June 2015) and the findings from the author's research in 2003 to 2004 when completing Master Degree in UKM (year 2002-2005). The author's professional experience as staff at Indonesia National Planning Agency (1996-1999) and as consultant for The World Bank Jakarta (1999-2002) has given valuable vision in analyzing the possibilities of capturing potential social capital of immigrant for the development in the host country. The author's own academic research for the thesis has discovered the social capital of Indonesian immigrants in Malaysia who are involved in economic informal sectors. As an active observer during stay in Kuala Lumpur, the author has been involved in a number of activities in Indonesian community, and actively participated in conducting some events and gathering. A number of informal conversations with certain groups' leaders and/or important members have given valuable information in enriching the findings on the social capital. As Indonesian immigrants are big in numbers and are widely dispersed in both involvement and social status, the author's recent observation has given additional understanding of social capital and their potential in enhancing the development effort in the host country.

2. Indonesian in Malaysia: A Historical Overview

The tendency to migrate is caused by internal and external factors, such as poverty condition and family and/or friend migration. Nevertheless, according to basic theory on migration causes, as revealed by Portes and Bach (1985), the most widely held approach to the causes of migration is that of push-pull theories. "Generally, they consist of a compilation of economic, social, and political factors deemed to force individuals to leave their native region or country and of a similar list impelling them toward another" (Portes & Bach, 1985).

As far as the record concerns, the migration of Indonesian people to Malaysia has taken place since a long time ago. As neighboring country, the people movement was common especially among the people living along the borders.

In Indonesian era of Dutch colonialism, people movement was taking place in fulfilling labor need at the plantation area. Many Javanese people were sent to Sumatra at that time, not only to fulfil the need of labor but also in order to distribute high population density in Java Island. Javanese people also migrated to Malaysia under British policy in order to meet the labour plantation needs. The wave of Indonesian immigration rose sharply under Suharto's era during the 1980s. At that time Indonesian policy was to push citizens who are willing to work abroad in order to ease the national unemployment. This situation has generated new groups of Indonesian immigrant, which are different from the previous migrant groups. Nevertheless, under the influence of nationalism, they might share a special connection and form unique relation as the previous migrants who have already developed certain network.

Circa the period of 2000s there is different wave of Indonesian immigrants flourishing the migration dynamics. The new groups consisted of expatriates who were needed by local companies and international company branches. At that time Indonesia was still suffering from economic crisis following the fall of Orde Baru regime under Suharto's administration. National Indonesian Aerospace Company / P. T. Dirgantara Indonesia was among national companies facing serious crisis. As a result, many professional workers had to find job vacancy abroad, including in Malaysia.

There was also another group of professional workers who were seeking better job offers available in Malaysia including engineering, oil and gas, and academic fields. There is no exact record on Indonesian workers composition based on their job background in Kuala Lumpur. However, professional organizations based in Kuala Lumpur including alumni associations, have noted that the number of Indonesian professional workers living in Kuala Lumpur have increased significantly.

The economic and politic condition of Indonesia was among the push factors for Indonesian migration to Malaysia. As there have been many problems recorded especially involving unskilled workers, under the administration of President Joko Widodo, Indonesia has recently revised the migrant worker policy and restricted sending of unskilled workers abroad. This recent situation may later alter the structure of immigrant workers in Malaysia in term of socioeconomic composition, and at the same time the potential of social capital may also change.

Indonesian migrants can be considered 'special' as compared to others coming from different countries as they have relatively similar root of culture and religion with Malay which is Malaysia main ethnic. A number of scholars have also classified Malay into some sub ethnic groups, such as Melayu Jawa, Melayu Minang, Melayu Kelantan, etc. (Hatin et al., 2011), whereas some of them are related to Indonesian ethnic, i.e. Melayu Minang, Melayu Jawa, Melayu Bugis, etc. This was in line with the time of colonialism where British policy regarded their presence as part of locals and the migrants enjoyed primacy of occupation and political right (Freedman, 1960). The presence of Indonesian ancestors was tracked by certain researchers including Tugby (1977) who studied Mandailings of North Sumatera migration to Malaysia, and Sekimoto (1988) who studied Javanese people in Selangor. Their existence can be discovered from their settlement across Peninsular Malaysia, such as Kampung Jawa in Johor. The name of the settlement usually indicated the origin of the migrant people, some Mandailing people's name for instance. Other unique feature of immigrants is the desire to preserve culture from their country of origin, as the case of Indonesian in Suriname. There are evidences that certain Indonesian migrant still maintain their culture which takes the form of custom, tradition, arts including traditional puppet show (wayang kulit), and traditional dance. This condition might be viewed as exclusivity by locals. Similar situation exists in the case of Indonesian immigrant in Malaysia. On the other hand, this kind of exclusivity may provide sentiment of nationalism among the latter immigrant and in turn strengthen their network.

3. Indonesian Immigrants, Groups, Organisations, and Activities

At present, network among Indonesian immigrants is strengthened by the establishment of Indonesian organizations and presence of branches of Indonesian-based organizations. A number of organization branches are Ikatan Alumni ITB (Association of ITB/Institut Teknologi Bandung alumni), IKAGAMA (Association of Gajah Mada University alumni), NU/Nahdlatul Ulama, Muhammadiyah (both are religion-based organizations) including their sub organisations i.e. PCIA/Pengurus Cabang Istimewa Aisyiah (organization for women of Muhammadiyah) and Muslimat NU (organization for women of NU). Example of Indonesian migrant organizations includes Ikatan Pekerja Muslim Indonesia, Forum Komunikasi Muslimah (Fokma), Forum Komunikasi Muslim Indonesia di Malaysia (Forkommi). We shall take note that there are also groups which are based on profession such as MyCommit (for IT professionals), IATMI/Ikatan Ahli Teknik Perminyakan Indonesia (for Oil and Gas professionals), IEC/Indonesia Engineering Community (for engineering field workers/professionals), and PPI/Perhimpunan Pelajar Indonesia (Indonesian student association at all universities in Malaysia).

Indonesian women are mostly involved in religion-based groups, and regularly arrange certain religion class/lecture, better known as pengajian. In KL-Kajang-Putrajaya area, there are more than 10 (ten) pengajian groups available, each with its own schedule. Usually, the members take turn to host the gathering, which takes place weekly. There are also women organizations which involve in more common activities. Examples include Indo KL Women (membership is free for all women staying/living in Kuala Lumpur and surroundings, independent of their spouses' profession), Malindo (abbreviation of Malaysia Indonesia, where members consist of Indonesian women whose spouses are businessman), and Perisai/Persatuan Istri Dosen Di Malaysia (Association of lecturer's wife in Malaysia). Individuals can be a member of more than one group and organization as well.

Organizations related to Indonesian university alumni usually organize activity for alumni and their family. Main activities of Indonesian religion organization branches are mostly related to matters of religion. However they also

occasionally arrange social activities and sometimes establish cooperation with local religion organization. Sometimes several Indonesian groups and organizations cooperate among themselves in conducting gathering or other activities. For example, Perisai and PCIA of Muhammadiyah also have experienced organizing book review discussion in 2013 (Hasanah, 2013), as well as free sunatan masal (children mass circumcision) for involving local mosque administration board at Gombak Selangor. The circumcised boys (of locals and foreigners) were then given hampers and benefits of follow up health services.

There are also groups who specialize in advocating Indonesian low skilled worker, better known as TKW/TKI (Tenaga Kerja Wanita (Women Workforce)/Tenaga Kerja Indonesian (Indonesian Workforce)) to develop better skill in other fields such as business, English, IT, craft, etc. Examples are Edukasi Untuk Bangsa, Persatuan Wanita Indonesia Untuk Pendidikan (PWIP). Edukasi Untuk Bangsa group members comprises volunteers from Indonesian expatriates, senior lecturer, students, and other activists who care about fellow Indonesians and are willing to share their skills. The main activities use particular rooms in Sekolah Indonesia Kuala Lumpur.

Whereas PWIP was initiated by particular women activist with different background focusing on Indonesian women workers who resided in Embassy's shelter. The shelter is located at the main office of Indonesian Embassy at Kuala Lumpur, provided by Indonesian government to help some Indonesian workers who were having problems in the working place. Those who are placed in the shelter usually are waiting for deportation and pending problem settlement with the employers, including unpaid/delayed salary payment. PWIP has also conducted several vocational courses including crafts class, cooking class, and embroidery class session. There are also activities under CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) program of a prominent bank of Indonesia, i.e. Bank Mandiri, Kuala Lumpur branch in organizing a few business-related trainings and advocating Indonesian workers who have desire to start small businesses.

Almost all members of the groups showed that they cared about Indonesian immigrant's common problems, especially those who had serious money problem for medication purpose or for those who were suffering from the loss of their family member. Fund raising for support of these type of problems is usually organized in each group. The presence of certain volunteers is always felt in organizing the financial and psychological/emotional support. In a number of cases, the required funding support for medication of Indonesian who suffered from serious illness was easily solved by other fellow Indonesians. As some individuals become multiple members of various groups/organizations, the information could spread quickly within and among social networks so fund raising as a common practice in supporting others could be easily done. This situation showed caring attitude among Indonesian immigrants as brotherhood/sisterhood within the spirit of nationalism. This situation also reveals the willingness of the various communities in maintaining 'gotong royong' (working together) tradition of their country of origin. In can be noted that this fact indicates very well the presence of potential source of social capital in the communities.

4. Indonesian Immigrant Social Capital and Its Potential

Portes is among scholars who captured the presence of social capital in immigrant community. He defined social capital as the ability to command scarce resources by virtue of membership in network and broader social structures (Portes, 1995a). Furthermore, he stated, "Social network are among the most important types of structures in which economic transactions are embedded....Networks are important in economic life because they are sources for acquisition of scarce means, such as capital and information, and because they simultaneously impose effective constraints on the unrestricted pursuit of personal gain." (Portes, 1995b). This statement clearly was proved in certain situations of Indonesian immigrants. For professional workers who usually are well educated, social capital was important to meet their tertiary needs such as maid, body massage service, etc. For middle class immigrants, the spouse who used to be involved in petty business trading, the network is important in gaining fellow Indonesian customers. This is helped by the situation that most Indonesian immigrant are still obsessed to have original Indonesian food and Indonesian fashion as well. This common condition arises because some Indonesian people, it is hard to adjust their appetite with local food and thus they always try to find Indonesian culinary dishes. Obsession of a number of Indonesian women to have Indonesian style of fashion could be met by goods and merchandise offered by other fellow Indonesians who regularly bring in some from their country of origin. There is tendency of Indonesian communities to preserve their cultural style and custom. This condition may tend to generate social exclusivity. Nevertheless, as

Indonesian settlements are scattered across Malaysia, and some Indonesian immigrants also have regular social gathering with the locals, the possibility of exclusivity is minor.

The present situation was different with the story Indonesian in Suriname, as written by Kroef. "Particularly among the older immigrants is the desire strongest to preserve as much as possible of the old adat (customs and traditions) in this new land, among people generally branded as kasar (rough, uncouth). The older workers, even after having lived in Surinam for decades, still speak the kromo (low Javanese dialect) or the commercial Malay which is now the official Indonesian language (Bahasa Indonesia). They too keep alive the traditions of wayang (Javanese shadow play or theatre) and gamelan (Javanese xylophone)."(Kroef, 1951). This condition may have happened in the past migration during the colonial era. As Indonesian immigrants blend smoothly into local communities the culture assimilation might have happened and resulted as we observe at the present time. Food is one proof of the presence of culture assimilation, such as satay, mee jawa, mee bandung, etc. The important aspect to highlight here is the cultural bond of immigrant with their country of origin may produce more network as they share the same interest. This condition is in-line with BankstonIII (2014), who was concerned with immigrant and social capital matters, stated that social capital accounts of immigration using social networks are essentially ways of thinking about the issue of immigration in terms of how people in immigrant groups are connected to each other.

In a different case, for the unskilled immigrants who mostly have minimal education, the social capital was required in their coping strategies especially for those who just arrive, having no relatives, and having no experience in staying abroad. Another important aspect to note here is that these groups benefited from immigrant network especially when they made connection to middle income groups. Some of them find side job as maid, massage services, meat and poultry supplier for household, selling traditional jamu/tonic drink and traditional cake, etc. These kinds of services were popular among Indonesian immigrants and both sided gain mutual valuable benefits. Research on Indonesian immigrants who involved in economic informal sector in Malaysia showed the dynamical presence of social capital.

Study on social capital of Indonesian immigrants in Malaysia who are involved in informal sector (Hasanah, 2005) revealed that immigrant network as one kind form of social capital is important in establishing business in the early stage. Furthermore the network is also important in maintaining business process and management as they meet customer through the network. However, broader network, including connection with locals needs to be assessed in order to broaden the business coverage and to gain more profit.

The study has further revealed that immigrants who are involved in the particular sector benefit from their network mainly at early stage. As they were categorized under unskilled immigrants, they rely upon networking of family, friends, and relatives in order to get their job and started their living, including finding their settlement. Due to lack of information on immigration law, many of them didn't possess the required paperwork. When their social visa goes expired, they usually get the information on visas, working permits, and passport process requirement through the immigrant network. For those who are willing to start to involve in petty trading business, this kind of network is important especially in finding suitable place and connecting to locals in getting business license. Certain number of immigrants even considered to have permanent resident status to secure their business in the long term. In fact, all respondents who run business have permanent resident status. This situation is common among immigrants who run small business, where they tend to use family and friend network in order to meet their needs in destination country. This condition is in-line with the study of immigrants business in Canada by Sanders and Nee (1996), who utilized social capital source of their family in running business.

As Lewis stated, "Social capital should be seen as arising from both the connections themselves and the purposes to which they are put (both the means and the ends)" (Lewis, 2009). The Indonesian immigrants who develop their business under the category of informal sector have been connected with the valuable source of network ranging from family-friends-other beyond the family, and host communities. There is no record of immigrants' involvement in the informal sector in Malaysia, but based on field observation, it is found that certain number of immigrants in Malaysia have been involved in such economic activities. This condition in line with the study of traditional immigrant entrepreneur by Marger (2001) that stated their success is commonly attributed to their ability to utilize social capital, especially ethnic resources, not available to non-ethnic business owners". This kind of network might be started with ethnic network at very early stage of business, and the broader business coverage, the more connection and network they can access. Although there is no significant number available to refer to their involvement in informal sectors activities but they may share significant contribution for local economic activities.

This kind of dynamic network may flourished the presence of social capital and may become a potential source of local development as Indonesian had experienced in capturing potential social capital in enhancing national and local development.

A number of scholars especially under The World Bank have examined the concept in the area of development. Indonesia is one of a country who used social capital concept as an effort in reducing poverty. The World Bank is among international organizations who played important role in conducting study and discussion on social capital. The organization also provides loan for Indonesia and other developing countries in order to strengthen the development by combating poverty through local social capital aspects. Study on social capital itself was organized under Social Capital Initiative in Social Development Unit of The World Bank. Local Level Institution study was part of study series in order to get more integrated information on social capital in some developing countries including Indonesia. The Social Safety Net program, as national development program in responding to the financial crisis in the mid-1990s apparently referred to particular findings of the study and has used social capital concept in running the program. It can be noted that government of Indonesia has eagerly activated local initiatives and local groups at the lowest level of administration in order to increase development responsiveness of villagers and urban communities at local level. This condition is in-line with Indonesian tradition of 'gotong royong' and 'swadaya' (self-help) that can be identified as collective action that have existed for a long time. In terms of social capital of Indonesian immigrants in Malaysia, their collective action in easing problems of fellow workers especially blue-collar workers, particular financial problem, and other self-help movement as their manifestation of nationalism and humanity may be considered as important source in broadening development effort in destination country.

5. Conclusion

The presence of social capital of Indonesian immigrant has given benefit for fellow Indonesian immigrants with different groups of economic and social status. The existence of branch of organizations from country of origin, and the establishment of organizations and groups at destination country are enhancing the presence of social capital that is embedded in the immigrants' network and activities. Indonesian customs of 'gotong royong' and 'swadaya' (self-help) motion as common efforts in community problem solving in their country of origin, have flourished the social capital dynamics.

Furthermore, the social capital will not only benefit Indonesian immigrants but also certain locals who have the interaction with the immigrant communities. Government of Indonesia already has experience of adopting social capital in triggering local community collective action to support development at local and national level. This fact may inspire authorities in the host country to generate idea of development effort by considering social capital of immigrants as potential resources for the support.

All findings could be fruitful in developing potential efforts to support local development especially in the area where the immigrants are mostly concentrated. It important to note to all parties that immigrants should gave positive contribution not only to their country of origin but also to the host/destination country, and social capital may become among the important aspects to use for the purpose.


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