Remote Workers Visas in COVID-19 Pandemic
Due to the COVID-19 experience, some employers and employees are exploring the idea that work may be carried out remotely. Countries with economies that rely heavily on tourism (and hard-hit by the pandemic) are using this to their advantage.
In the United States, business advocacy groups and many companies have been urging the removal of the current COVID-19-related restrictions on immigrant and nonimmigrant visas based on Presidential Proclamations with little effect. They say the restrictions “disserve the interests of the United States by stifling the ability of U.S. businesses to attract the world’s best talent, drive innovation and further American economic prosperity.” Studies show that when employers are faced with constraints, they are more likely to outsource jobs than hire more U.S. workers. Outsourcing results in a reduction in the number of employees buying consumer goods and homes in the United States — delivering another blow to the economy.
“Digital nomads” or “location-independent” workers are not a new phenomenon, but the COVID-19 pandemic has increased their numbers. People who are working remotely, whether for specific employers or as “gig” workers, are seeing some advantages in working from countries that may have lower COVID-19 rates and lower living costs. Countries such as Barbados, Bermuda, and Georgia, among others, are catering to these constituencies and offering special visa programs.
The visa programs offer a variety of services, including high-speed, fiber optic internet, workspaces, and accommodations, at various budget levels, access to schools for families, and access to a vacation-like atmosphere. Lower COVID-19 infection rates is the added attraction. Applicants must satisfy the eligibility requirements, including income levels, health insurance, and COVID-19 testing (and, perhaps, a quarantine period).
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Barbados was the first country to offer its 12-month Welcome Stamp program. Bermuda followed. The Republic of Georgia and Estonia offer similar programs. Others include:
Each country has its own requirements and application procedures – some quite complex – and counsel must consider the legal immigration, tax, employment law, and benefit implications, among other things. It is also important to review Department of State and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Travel Advisories.
As remote work becomes more pervasive, more countries are opening their doors to location-independent workers.