Due to the coronavirus, new programs are emerging to invite remote workers to reside in foreign countries. Will we all become digital nomads?
In early March, Manhattan resident Sadie Millard visited her boyfriend in Bermuda.
At that time, New York had begun closing stores due to COVID-19.
Instead of returning home, she logged in from her boyfriend’s home to remotely do her job as the managing director of a Wall Street stockbroker.
Now, Millard hopes he won’t have to go back to New York, at least for a while.
To do this he is applying for a new one-year residency certificate that Bermuda launched as part of the “Work from Bermuda” program.
The program was enabled on August 1 and would allow Sadie to work remotely for 12 months in this British overseas territory located about 1,050 kilometers from the American Atlantic coast.
“I thought if I had to telecommute, better in Bermuda. Here I feel safer due to the measures and regulations that the Government has imposed to test and manage the virus, ”explains Sadie.
“And if I have to go back to New York for a meeting, the flight from Bermuda is faster than driving from The Hamptons (a New York vacation spot).”
Bermuda is one of the small territories and nations that, after successfully containing the first wave of the virus, now launch one-year visas for remote workers.
These countries seek to boost their economies by attracting foreign currencies.
These visa programs involve a version 2.0 of the nomadic lifestyle. A calmer, more calculating version that is likely to appeal to a different audience now that remote work has spread fully.
A change in the middle of the pandemic
The corporate world, traditionally averse to remote work, is now more open to this option as a result of the pandemic.
In a global survey conducted by the US consultancy Gartner, more than 80% of 127 company leaders were willing to allow part-time remote work even when it is safe to return to the office.
Good news for many workers who have spent the confinement trying not to share space with their partners at the kitchen table.
“People have spent the last four decades asking for more flexibility to work from home, and the pandemic has done this in much less time than any union,” says Dave Cook, a PhD researcher in the department of Anthropology at University College London. .
Therefore, options like Bermuda are not only attractive, but also realistic.
The Government of Bermuda, after opening borders on July 1, noted that tourists asked how to extend their 90-day visas.
Also, many of them started doing things they never did, like joining the gym or booking villas for months.
“There the light bulb went on“Says Glenn Jones, interim CEO of the Bermuda Tourism Authority.
Most of the 131 remote workers who have applied are not the typical digital nomads who in the last decade have moved to Bali, Medellín or Lisbon.
Many of them are like Millard. Well positioned business people from the East Coast of the United States who have been spending weekends in Bermuda for years.
Other than the $ 263 visa application fee, there aren’t many other restrictions. Allows multiple inputs and outputs.
You must present valid health insurance, demonstrate sufficient financial support and, if you are a student, be involved in a university program.
Otherwise, you live like any other temporary resident.
“We hope this visa will be like a test for many business people, as they might fall in love with the place and want to make it their permanent business home,” says Jones.
A unique opportunity
Bermuda is just one example of these emerging remote work initiatives.
The Caribbean island of Barbados implemented a similar 12-month program on July 24.
It is more expensive than Bermuda. It costs $ 2,000 for individuals and $ 3,000 for families. To apply, annual income must be at least $ 50,000.
Georgia, another country dependent on tourism, announced a similar project to attract digital nomads in July. But the Minister of Economy, Natia Turnava, has revealed few details.
All of these places offering new types of visa have had few coronavirus infections and have put in place strict protocols.
Most of these programs were created quickly to relaunch tourism with long-term travelers who pose less risk from COVID-19 than those who come and go.
But these offerings for digital nomads have been developing in other countries even before the pandemic.
Estonia has been preparing its Visa for Digital Nomads for two years. In this European country, tourism accounts for 8% of its economy.
That the release date was August 1 was just a coincidence.
“We launched this visa because we saw the opportunity that no country offered,” explains Ott Varner, CEO of e-Residency in Estonia.
“There were a significant number of people who were working illegally on vacation visas. So we thought, why don’t we let the government figure this out? ”Varner adds.
Estonia commissioned a survey in July in the US market to detect interest in the Digital Nomad Visa.
It showed that 57% of participants would consider living in another country to work remotely, with a lower cost of living and other different cultural experiences.
The degree of acceptance was much higher in workers between 18 and 34 years old (63%) than in those over 55 (38%).
Countries like the Czech Republic, Mexico and Portugal have introduced visas for self-employed workers in recent years, but Vatter says the Estonian visa is much broader in coverage.
It allows a wide range of freelancers to telecommute, including those full-time whose jobs are located abroad.
Applicants must pay a $ 120 fee, provide evidence of health insurance, and prove monthly income of at least $ 4,180 for the six months prior to arrival.
But there are no eligibility restrictions depending on the sector of work or country of origin.
Vatter says the new visa program aims to attract at least 1,800 applicants.
The intention is that these nomads stay indefinitely, renewing their visas or applying for residency.
“Estonia is a very small country and we don’t have many natural resources to have much to say in the global economy. But we are good at efficiency and technology. We believe that it is an advantage to compete and attract the best talent ”.
A new culture of remote work
According to Dave Cook, the anthropologist, what might change the meaning of digital nomad is a big question mark.
All of the countries offering these new visas have had few coronavirus infections and have established strict protocols. These have included mandatory 14-day quarantine and testing before entering or leaving the country.
Although it remains to be seen whether these programs produce a significant financial benefit, it seems clear that the number of people willing to apply is growing. At least, among those whose jobs have not been so affected by the economic slowdown.
Marilyn Devonish, a flex-work strategist in London, says there has been a “seismic shift in the way the world works and that flex-work is likely to become the norm after the pandemic. When organizations learn how to manage and motivate remote employees ”.
Cook isn’t so sure if these hastily released visas are going to work. Furthermore, he says that digital nomadism, with idealistic images of laptops on a beach, It is often used as a marketing tool for lazy people.
Some countries, he says, “are just looking for ways to increase the number of visitors without really understanding the perspective of the digital nomad, who like to go to cities where there are spaces for coworking and a structure that cannot be assembled overnight.
These programs can attract a new segment of workers who have never considered working from abroad before.
And, for digital nomads who already do, these semi-permanent visas encourage them to reside in a longer-term location and test if it works better for them.
“People are beginning to dream and imagine a new future,” he says.
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