While in Italy south working is becoming a popular trend, prompting young workers to leave city life behind to return to their home regions and work remotely, the current trend around the world is for so-called “digital nomads”: people who decide to travel to a different country and work remotely from wherever suits them best.
The new digital professions are making this possible - all you need is a laptop and a reliable internet connection to work from anywhere in the world, at any latitude and in any time zone. Now some countries are grasping the opportunity to attract workers and revive their economies by offering special visas, which are unsurprisingly called “digital nomad visas”.
The first to do so was Estonia, with its electronic voting and X-Road, the major national infrastructure launched in 2001, it has always been a digitally advanced society. The pandemic has provided an opportunity to speed up such aspects as digital rights: with the impact of the pandemic on its economy, Estonia decided to capitalize on the possibility of attracting workers from abroad to help bolster its business and services. The Estonian “digital nomad visa” allows non-European workers to spend a year in the country, including the right to travel within the Schengen area for 90 days.
Estonia is not alone: other countries like Barbados, Bermuda and Georgia have introduced provisions to allow foreign workers to stay for extended periods of time. Croatia (which saw a dramatic fall in its revenues from tourism and consequent impact on GDP) is also looking at introducing such provisions, as are Norway and the Czech Republic. This is not just about immersing yourself in a new culture, it is also a chance to spend some time in a place which would, in normal times, fall into the holiday destination category, with all the related benefits (like lower stress levels).
The Estonian “digital nomad visa” allows non-European workers to spend a year in the country, including the right to travel within the Schengen area for 90 days
In Barbados a special Welcome Stamp will allow visitors to spend 12 months working there with the bonus of an amazing view of the Caribbean. “We recognise more people are working remotely, sometimes in very stressful conditions, with little chance of a holiday. Our new 12-month Barbados Welcome Stamp is a visa that allows you to relocate and work from one of the world’s most beloved tourism destinations,” said Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley.
Georgia has launched an online platform where foreign freelancers and self-employed workers can apply for a special visa allowing them to stay in the country for up to 6 months. Two weeks quarantine Is required on arrival as are six months of travel insurance.
According to UCL anthropologist and digital nomad expert Dave Cook, this is not a new phenomenon, in actual fact it’s been around for at least ten years, as he explained in an article in The Conversation. Though traditionally targeted at millennials working in e-commerce, copywriting and design, with the onset of Covid and the boom in working remotely, the trend is destined to grow and attract increasing numbers of workers.
If they are no longer tied to a single location or office (many companies have given up office space for the long term), more people may well be attracted by the opportunity to switch from being simply a remote worker to being a digital nomad.
Of course, some hurdles remain especially when it comes to the legal, tax and social security implications. As a rule, the law states that your fiscal residence (where you pay tax) is in the country where you spend at least 183 days a year. But now that we no longer need to be in the office, many people could reasonably decide to move to a country where the cost of living - and taxes - are lower.
Over the next few years, an increasing number of workers will be working from home in an EU member state for companies headquartered in another country. The phenomenon urgently needs to be regulated
It will not be easy to overcome these hurdles, also in light of the fact that both Italian and European legislation still have to catch up. So, for the time being, the duration of these digital nomad visas is necessarily limited to a specific period of time. “Over the next few years, an increasing number of workers will be working from home in an EU member state for companies headquartered in another country. The phenomenon urgently needs to be regulated to avoid damaging the single market and its workers. That’s why once the Recovery Fund negotiations are over, I will work with other colleagues involved in this topic to put pressure on the Commission so that it draws up a proposal for legislation for the European parliament to work on,” was the comment of Brando Benifei, delegation head of for the Democratic Party at the European parliament and member of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection.
Whatever the developments on the legislative front, companies will continue to play a significant role. Having said goodbye to their offices they will find themselves having to find a balance in these evolving employment relationships. Not physically controlling their employees means that employers will have to place greater trust in each individual, in those employees who will increasingly be working to objectives rather than for a specified number of hours. Labour experts like Luca Solari are addressing such increasingly disruptive trends to which management will have to adapt.
As we wait to discover in which other countries and for how long this kind of remote work is possible, digital nomads already have plenty of choice: the way ahead is being paved for both nomads or those aspiring to be one.