COVID-19 Pandemic Introduces New Options for Digital Nomads

As we previously reported, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected employers and employees across the globe.  Since the outbreak of COVID-19, governments have implemented measures to address the economic impact of the pandemic, including job retention schemes and promoting remote work.  Many employers have reconsidered the need for employees to return to the office at all.  In response, Barbados and Estonia have taken a dynamic approach to these changes and have introduced digital nomad visas that allow individuals to live in the country while they work for foreign employers.

Digital Nomads Generally

Digital nomads are remote, location-independent individuals who either are employed by a foreign company or own their own foreign company.  Digital nomads are not based in any one office or worksite and instead rely on information and communications technology to complete their work remotely.  They may work out of cafes, on beaches or in hotel rooms – indeed, almost anywhere – because they have no set physical workplace.

Digital Nomad Visas in Barbados and Estonia

The Barbados Welcome Stamp digital nomad visa, promoted by Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley, costs US$2,000 for an individual and US$3,000 for a family (i.e., applicant, spouse/partner and dependents), regardless of size.  The visa allows remote workers to live in Barbados for one year and to travel in and out of the country freely.  Applicants must earn over US$50,000 annually and test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of arrival.

The Government of Barbados hopes that the initiative will revitalize its tourism-dependent economy.  Barbados derives 40 percent of its GDP from tourism, with approximately 30 percent of the Bajan workforce engaged in tourism-related work.  Various travel restrictions imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have all but halted international travel and tourism, impacting tourism-reliant economies, including Barbados.  The Government of Barbados hopes that digital nomad visas can draw visitors that otherwise would remain in their home countries.

In addition, Estonia offers its own digital nomad visa program.  Much like the Barbados Welcome Stamp, the Estonian digital nomad visa permits foreign workers to live in the country while legally working for their employer.  The application fee is between €80 and €100, depending on the length of remote workers’ stay.  The visa lasts up to one year and grants 90 days of travel across Europe’s 26-country Schengen zone, depending upon travel restrictions.  Applicants must earn at least €3,504  per month (approximately US$4,100), pass a background check, and be location-independent.  By easing travel restrictions, the country hopes to increase international collaboration and to encourage entrepreneurship.

The COVID-19 pandemic has restricted travel for many individuals and has significantly expanded remote work.  With a digital nomad visa, workers can explore international destinations during the pandemic without competing with locals for jobs.  Digital nomad visas also may initiate crucial economic recovery activity and, by heightening a country’s international presence in the business and technology sectors and, in particular, moving smaller countries forward in those sectors.  Estonian Prime Minister Mart Helme noted this potential benefit when he stated that “[a] digital nomad visa strengthens Estonia’s image as an e-state and thus enables Estonia to have a more effective say on an international scale.  It also contributes to the export of Estonian e-solutions, which is especially important in recovering from the current economic crisis.”

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National Law Review, Volumess X, Number 210