How the rise of ‘digital nomad’ visas will drive the global battle for talent

Many people have traveled from country to country while working remotely over the past decade, but the means to do so legitimately until recently were limited. Outdated visa systems forced travelers to define themselves as entrepreneurs or workers and required a company to sponsor their stay – an expensive and bureaucratic itinerary with few guarantees. Instead, most people chose to call themselves “tourists” but risked deportation if authorities caught them.

However, as with most aspects of work and travel, the Covid-19 pandemic has challenged the status quo. Today, countries are launching “digital nomadic visas” in hopes of replacing tourists with remote workers.

Not many people know that Estonia is home to one of the most advanced digital governments in the world. The country Online residency program, launched in 2014, allows foreign nationals to register their identity information, set up businesses in the European Union and open bank accounts without ever going there. In 2018, the same political decision-makers responsible for this program announced a new project, intended to be a world first: a digital nomad visa.

“We saw a gap in the visa market precisely because nomads were forced to exist in this legal gray area between ‘tourist’ and ‘worker’,” said Alex Wellman, communications manager for e- Estonian Residency. “We took the opportunity to resolve this issue with a legitimate route for self-employed site workers to establish themselves here. As a company, we recognize the need for foreign talent to contribute to the development of our business ecosystem, our labor market and our economy in general. “

The eligibility criteria for Estonia visa are straightforward. Firstly, participants must have an active employment contract with a non-Estonian company, conduct their business through their own registered company abroad or be a freelance writer working mainly for foreign clients. Second, their monthly income must be at least € 3,504 ($ 4,160) before tax in the six months preceding their application.

In July 2020, the Estonian parliament approved the nomadic visa plan and applications for the program were officially opened the following month. At this point, however, Estonia wasn’t the only option for remote workers looking for a change of scenery.

the Barbados welcome stamp launched a month before the Estonian nomadic visa. It allows remote workers from anywhere in the world to relocate to the island for a period of up to 12 months. Participants are not required to move their personal or business tax residence to Barbados, but they must have an annual income of $ 50,000 and agree to purchase local health insurance.

“The same assets like climate, food and beauty that have made Barbados such a fantastic tourist destination make it a great partner for remote workers,” said Peter Thompson, the entrepreneur who first proposed a remote work visa to Barbados in response to the pandemic. “We are not a big nation, so the digital economy gives us our opportunity. Moving forward as a country is not only what you know, but who you know. It is a way for Barbados to radically extend that aspect of ‘who you know’ by becoming a global hub, ”he added.

Businesses have paved the way for a borderless battle for talent in the first two decades of the 21st century. Tech giants like Google and Facebook were bold in their search for skilled workers and willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars each year on international recruiting and university partnerships to access the right people. This led to the emergence of Silicon Valley as a center of technology and innovation. But what comes next is unlikely to be in a single destination format.

As the new visa trend takes off, companies will need to think differently about how they engage and retain workers. Suddenly, businesses of all sizes need to look beyond their region and think globally. The battle for talent is not only between companies, but also between companies and countries. It’s a challenge for organizations looking to transform their operations, but the earliest distributed enterprises are keen to demonstrate the business benefits.

Betsy Church Bula is a remote evangelist at GitLab, a fully distributed software company with team members in over 65 countries. She was previously part of the talent department, but recently joined the remote culture team. Hiring around the world, she says, gives organizations a competitive edge.

“Our employees can live where they want or choose to move. There is no pressure for them to move to a central city to build a successful career, ”she added. “Not only are we able to find talented people in places other companies might have overlooked, but our team is more representative of different backgrounds and cultures. For companies looking to serve a global audience, this diversity of thinking is a huge advantage. “

The talent game has become more complex for the 2020s. Companies continue to seek human capital in inventive ways and regardless of national borders. Now, however, countries have joined the race – meaning more freedom and opportunity than ever for workers in demand.

3 questions with Andrew Buckman, CEO, ad technology company Sublime

How has the past year affected your work and your mental health?
I had to re-evaluate my way of communicating [with staff] and make decisions and what effect that has on people. I cannot deliver the result of a decision in person, so it is very difficult to judge how it is received. And often it is received in a different way than you imagine. From a mental health perspective, it has been difficult. I haven’t slept a full night since it all started. I wake up at 4 a.m. and don’t make myself asleep because there are a ton of decisions to be made.

What decisions have kept you from sleeping?
Last year was very difficult in terms of revenue, so it had an impact on the ambitions of the company, where we took it and where we invest. I chose to invest heavily in a new product which meant I couldn’t invest in other departments like marketing so now these people have smaller teams and those who stay work ten times harder with fewer resources. I can see they are reaching the end of their tether. I know it was the right decision for the company, but it’s hard to make decisions that will make other people’s lives harder, especially last year.

How did you have to change the way you communicate with employees?
The hardest part was understanding the right tone of [the] conversation and realize that the tone needs to change on an ongoing basis. Just because something works once and generates engagement and interaction with teams doesn’t mean it will always work that way. I used to make tea every morning on Zoom with anyone who wanted to talk about unprofessional things with me and others. It worked fine for a month and a half and then people went down. So keeping people engaged at bay, on a regular basis – you have to constantly reinvent it. It’s been a year, how do you maintain this culture? But the biggest positive that has come from this past year is that it is no longer taboo to have a personal life. People are much more open to what’s going on outside of their jobs and that helps them connect better.

Numbers don’t lie

  • 67% out of 500 C-suite executives interviewed in the UK say they suffered “decision paralysis” during the pandemic.
    [Source of data: Peak’s Decision Intelligence Report.]
  • 75% of 2,250 American adults report a lack of meaningful progress towards creating a fair environment in their businesses for employees of color and 80% said there was a lack of financial investment in promoting employees of various races within their company.
    [Source of data: Hue’s State of Inequity report, conducted by The Harris Poll.]
  • 62% in 2000 Americans surveyed want to move to a new country
    [Source of data: Simform’s Remote Work Survey 2021.]

What else have we covered

  • For older women in the workplace, the symptoms of menopause are more than bothersome. “I saw a coworker get kicked out of her senior management role on the board and take a smaller role because of her menopause-related hot flashes.” said a senior agency manager who spoke anonymously to us about her experiences in the latest episode of our Confessions series.
  • The high productivity of staff working remotely has impressed bosses around the world. As a result, companies that were once inextricably linked – in identity and in spirit – to industrial centers like New York and San Francisco have essentially become companies out of nowhere.
  • Planning for the future of office space is underway. For some companies, the expected hybrid models will require less real estate investment, while others will double their office footprint as they prepare for aggressive growth.

This briefing is edited by Jessica Davies, Editor-in-Chief of Future of Work.


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