MADRID – The Spanish countryside is slowly disappearing after the long exodus of its rural population, but SÃ¡rnago hopes to avoid that fate – for now.
Nestled in the mountainous region of Soria north of Madrid, it reached its peak in 1950 when there were 462 permanent residents, mostly living off agriculture.
But the lure of city life and higher paying jobs finally took its toll when the last resident left in 1979.
Activists have now saved the hamlet by attracting five permanent residents, many of whom work remotely or come for short stays.
Spain hopes to help save struggling communities like SÃ¡rnago by offering visas and tax incentives to digital nomads, who work from their laptops around the world, to encourage them to live in what many here have come. to be described as EspaÃ±a Vacia, or “Void Spain.” “
The start-up bill will offer 12-month visas to non-residents of the European Union.
Like many other countries that have introduced nomadic visas, Spain wants to attract foreign workers with low tax rates.
They would be eligible for Spain’s 24% non-resident tax rate on income up to $ 711,000 per year. By comparison, Spanish residential tax rates can reach 45% depending on income, according to data from the Spanish Treasury Ministry.
Once a person lives and works in Spain, they can apply for a residence permit to extend their stay for two years, which can be renewed for two years.
The law, which could be amended but has received support from all major political parties, is an attempt to deal with Spain’s rural decline.
Among 8,131 Spanish municipalities, 3,403 are classified as at risk of disappearing, according to the country’s National Statistics Institute, or nearly 43%.
Spain also wants to encourage businesses and entrepreneurs to bring much-needed investment to the economically struggling rural areas of the country.
So, will digital nomads have to live in small, remote villages like SÃ¡rnago?
âI hope we can attract foreigners to come and live here at least for a while,â JosÃ© MarÃa Carrascosa, president of the Friends of SÃ¡rnago Association, told VOA.
The village is 280 kilometers north of Madrid and most of the locals work as farmers.
âWe have a reasonably good internet connection – 4G – for a rural area, so you can send emails, but when you want to do a Zoom meeting, that’s a bit more of a problem. We also have a coworking space.
A quieter life
Carrascosa reveals that anyone who wants to spend time in their village should be prepared for a quieter social life.
The only bar closed years ago and the nearest school and shops are a 5 km drive away in a larger village.
SÃ¡rnago is one of 30 other dying villages that have joined the National Network of Welcoming Villages for Remote Workers, RNPAT, a group working with the Spanish government to attract workers to the countryside.
âWe have found that people are much more enthusiastic about working online because of the pandemic. We have seen that more and more people have left the cities for the small villages â, noted Ricardo Ortega, president of RNPAT, in an interview with VOA.
âWe believe that this visa can inspire people to come and enjoy the Spanish way of life, far from the cities and the coast. They can see the real Spain.
In an effort to address decades of rural unrest, Spain’s left-wing government in March presented an $ 11.9 billion plan that includes measures to improve the country’s internet connection and build a series of co-work in small villages.
Alejandro MacarrÃ³n Larumbe, who heads the Demographic Renaissance Foundation in Spain which seeks to address the rural exodus, said the government must address practical connectivity issues with poor Wi-Fi, infrastructure and equipment.
“This visa program could help attract foreign talent and build momentum,” MacarrÃ³n said in an interview with VOA.
âWe have a lot of rural villages which are lovely. But we have to be realistic, so it’s probably unlikely that people will want to live too far from airports. “
Tim Acheson could be the poster for the Spanish digital nomads program.
The British fintech specialist recently bought a townhouse with his wife in MarÃa, a village of 1,000 inhabitants in south-eastern Spain.
The couple, who travel from London to Spain about once a month, are now considering moving to their new home for good.
âThe internet is better in Maria than in London – and I live next to an internet exchange in London,â he told VOA.
âOur house is about a two hour drive from Alicante airport, so it is well connected. No one speaks English there, but we learn the language quickly and everyone is very friendly to us.
Acheson and his wife became residents of Spain last year, which means they cannot take full advantage of the nomadic visa.
âI really hope Spain will make this nomadic visa work. They have one of the best internet systems in Europe and an excellent quality of life, âhe added.