Marketing images of digital nomads have focused on executives on oceanfront patios, sand in their toes, sun in their faces, and iPads in their laps.
But the reality of the remote working phenomenon that has taken off in the aftermath of the pandemic is that it works both ways.
In the post-COVID flexible working world, employees might as well earn salaries in Cayman and spend them elsewhere.
Cayman, Bermuda and Barbados have all bolstered their virus-hit economies by issuing special permits allowing people to live in paradise locations while traveling to offices in colder climates.
But there’s a potential downside for small islands with the “work from anywhere” trend, says Grand Cayman-based recruiting specialist Steve McIntosh.
He says a growing number of jobs, previously located in Cayman, have gone elsewhere, a trend he expects to continue as more workers move away from traditional offices and 9-5 environments. .
Outsourcing administrative, IT and administrative support jobs, primarily to Asia, has been a cost-cutting strategy for businesses on the island for some time, says Nick Joseph, a partner specializing in immigration law. immigration to HSM.
But he thinks the pandemic has led to a shift in mindset on remote working which is also leading to frontline roles moving overseas.
Many employers learned out of necessity during the pandemic that it was possible to run a business with the majority of staff working from home.
It’s not a big step, McIntosh says, to decide the home doesn’t need to be in Cayman.
When a long-time trusted employee chooses, or is forced for immigration reasons, to leave Cayman, the option for them to continue working from overseas has become a much more realistic option.
“There is no doubt in my mind that it will become increasingly common for Caymanian businesses to have overseas-based employees,” McIntosh says.
“It’s a good thing for employers who will benefit from a much larger talent pool and reduced employment costs, but it’s very clearly a bad thing for local workers who will increasingly need to be competitive. on a global playground.”
One of the perceived benefits of Cayman’s large financial industry is that it creates well-paying jobs for Caymanians and brings in well-paid professionals from overseas to spend money on rent for local landlords, groceries from local supermarkets and services from local businesses.
In theory, these businesses and employees also help create new jobs and training opportunities for Caymanians on the island.
But if more companies choose a remote work model in the wake of COVID, it will reduce the need for having bodies in the office, or even having an office at all.
The flip side of digital nomadism is that overseas-based workers earn wages as “contractors” to Caymanian companies and spend their wages elsewhere.
The employee wins because they can reduce their cost of living by paying rent and groceries outside Cayman.
The company wins because it no longer has to pay pension, health insurance or work permit fees.
But Cayman is losing direct revenue for the government, discretionary spending for businesses and jobs supporting the economy.
“We’re entering a new phase of ‘globalization’ and it’s not just support functions that are being outsourced,” says Joseph.
“There have been prominent cases where Cayman-based leaders have been stranded in third countries due to border closures.
They performed their role effectively, often from a laptop. Their work permits had to be renewed. The call came in: “Do I have to pay CI$30,000 to renew my work permit or can I instead continue to work for a Cayman company while staying outside of Cayman, free of charge?”
In an age where laptops and Wi-Fi keep us constantly connected, he says, there is relatively little work that needs to be done exclusively in one specific location.
“The world is flat and you can do almost anything from anywhere,” says Joseph. “Tourism, construction and healthcare are about the only sectors that need on-the-ground employees in Cayman. Everything else can be exported.
This dynamic is exacerbated, Joseph says, when authorities or circumstances make it difficult or time-consuming to obtain a work permit. If the hassle and cost of bringing a skilled worker to Cayman gets too much, he says, the easiest route will be to leave remotely.
“Increasingly, professional roles that would traditionally be filled in Cayman are unfortunately being filled overseas,” he says.
“These include positions where attempts have been made to obtain Cayman work permits that have been denied, or where processing has been delayed, beyond the patience of the company or the individual concerned.”
McIntosh says it’s now common for work permits to take three months or more to process. It’s not an approach he says helps Caymanians in the job market.
The same person is just as likely to get the job – they’ll just do it from abroad.
He says it was difficult for the government to prevent or even track this flight of jobs out of Cayman’s economy.
“The government can thwart attempts by employers to hire foreigners here in Cayman, but there is really nothing the government can do to prevent employers from hiring foreigners who stay on their own soil,” a- he declared.
According to Joseph, the best approach is to reduce or eliminate any unnecessary bureaucracy required when recruiting staff in Caymanians, especially when staff are not competing with Caymanians for opportunities.
“We must remember that technology and globalization are increasingly facilitating the relatively free movement of people and businesses.
Every barrier we place, every fee we charge, every call we don’t answer and every need we don’t meet, increases the prospect that the people and businesses we Caymanians would choose to have here, don’t come or, worse, don’t stay here.
The digital nomad trend is a global phenomenon that shows few signs of slowing down.
Nearly half of all workers in the United States have worked remotely during the pandemic, and more than 10 million now identify themselves as “digital nomads,” who travel with their laptops and are officially independent of any central office.
Analysis from consultancy MBO Partners points to a higher degree of job satisfaction among digital nomads and predicts the trend will continue.
“The pandemic-induced shift to remote working has taught businesses of all sizes that remote working works. This has led to widespread support from leaders, managers and workers to continue to allow both flexible working hours and remote working arrangements after the pandemic is over,” the report notes.
Caymans are always well positioned to take advantage, says Joseph. He thinks the island’s year-round sunshine, low crime and modern infrastructure make it a great choice as a place to live.
“Overall, the benefits of globalization for Caymans should outweigh the harms, but we will need to recognize them and respond effectively to keep the balance in favor of Caymans.”
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