Remote work: “digital nomads” bring millions of people to the region

In the 10 months since the launch of the Barbados one-year visa for remote work, it processed some 2,500 applications, earned $ 6 million for government coffers and raked in at least $ 100 million. dollars in tourism revenue for the country, eclipsing the roughly $ 70 million received from cruise ships in a typical year, according to one of the visa architects.

The one-year Barbados visa was one of six programs targeting remote workers that emerged in the eastern Caribbean during the Covid-19 pandemic.

They aim to boost tourism in countries where travel restrictions have made traditional short vacations more difficult, according to the United Nations Development Program, which hosted a web forum on the subject late last month. .

Panelists said “digital nomads” using visas represent a new type of visitor that Caribbean economies must attract if they are to remain competitive.

“The remote work industry in Barbados was announced in July and operationalized in August, so in 10 months, less than a year, we have already overtaken an industry. [cruise tourism] which we have spent countless years and countless public dollars developing, ”said Peter Thompson, CEO of Remote Work Barbados, who helped develop the visa program. According to Nikola Simpson, head of the UNDP accelerator for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, the estimates exclude school fees, food, entertainment and transport, “which could directly benefit [micro, small and medium-sized enterprises] and
women in particular, who tend to be over-represented in the service sector.

Ms Simpson added that the pandemic is altering consumer demand.

“International visitors not only want to stay longer, but also to travel with their families and have safer, more personalized experiences with greater elements of environmental sustainability,” she explained.

Extended benefits

Mr Thompson said the benefits of the program extend beyond the $ 6 million put in the Barbados government coffers.

“What I realized is that the fundamental value that we bring to our shores is a human resource: that we bring people who understand the economy of the 21st century, because they are at the cutting edge of digital technology”, did he declare.

Visa recipients work virtually, but as they interact with residents on a daily basis, their influence inevitably rubs off on residents, he explained.

“The future beyond tourism, our economies, depends on our acquiring these same skills that these digital experts already have, and they are going to be our neighbors,” added Mr. Thompson.

Plan VI promised

More and more countries are embarking on the adventure as they watch the unfolding of new visas.

The Virgin Islands could be one of them. In April, Natural Resources, Labor and Immigration Minister Vincent Wheatley announced the upcoming launch of a “work in paradise” long-stay visa similar to those offered in Barbados and Antigua and. Barbuda.

He did not specify a specific timetable or requirements other than that beneficiaries would not be allowed to work for local employers.

“The introduction of new sources of income is necessary to propel BVI into new arenas, thus resulting in greater financial flexibility,” he said.
at the time. “Like other Caribbean island nations, the BVI has seen a decline in tourist arrivals due to Covid-19, and as such, the introduction of a remote work program will encourage more ‘arrivals on our coasts. “


Even though “digital nomads” live and work among residents, the programs are designed to ensure they don’t drain resources from the local economy, said Katrina Yearwood, Immigration Officer for Antigua and -Barbuda, who presented their “digital” long-stay Nomad Visa program in September.

Customer base

With costs between $ 1,500 and $ 3,000 and a minimum income of $ 50,000, the visa does not target backpackers but “a certain caliber of clientele,” she explained.

“They have to rent houses, [and] … If they have children, you have to go to a private school, ”she said. “This niche market does not drain the government’s purse.”

In addition to injecting money into the economy through rent, food and entertainment, many long-term visitors also employ residents as housekeepers or nannies, she added.

“And because of the relationship we have with them, they have no problem, no qualms about giving back to the community,” she said. “And that’s a very impressive and beneficial thing here in Antigua and Barbuda.”


Another panelist was Ava Nasiri, an Iranian-Canadian engineer and digital nomad who currently lives in Barbados on the new visa.

Ms Nasiri told the panel that as a long-time visitor, she strives to increase her sense of “belonging”, which she divided into two categories.

“One is the contribution. And to me it feels like doing some shopping directly from the roadside farmer, vegetables, supporting small and micro businesses, ”she said. “And the community is part of it too. “

Measuring tourism

Panelists agreed that the new visas, by helping visitors connect with a place, will likely help increase tourism in the long run as well.

Mr Thompson acknowledged that Covid-19 “fundamentally destroyed what was once our biggest industry. But if we are savvy about it, we can rebuild better. “

He added: “There is a big problem in the Caribbean, about how we count and calculate the benefits of tourism. We count the bodies arriving at the airport. This statistic is fundamentally irrelevant. It is more important to count local expenses.

About Andrew Miller

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