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In a rapidly evolving work landscape, 17.3 million Americans, comprising 11% of the workforce, now proudly identify as digital nomads, with the number steadily rising. Countries like Spain and Uruguay open their doors to these untethered workers, offering attractive remote work visa schemes. The trend is global, with more than 60 countries following suit. Experts suggest it’s not just about tax benefits, but fostering knowledge economies and connections between nomads and locals. While Canada beckons tech talent, the US lags behind. The world is shifting towards hybrid work, and digital nomadism is here to stay.
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Digital Nomad Visas Expand as Spain, Canada Vie for Global Talent
By Lebawit Lily Girma
Considering remote working from overseas? Join the growing segment of untethered persons: In the US alone, 17.3 million Americans, 11% of the workforce, now identify as digital nomads—traditional jobholders and independent workers—an increase of 2% from 2022, according to the August 2023 report from US workforce management company MBO Partners. Another 70 million are either planning to become digital nomads over the next two to three years or are considering it.
Consequently the list of attractive destinations cutting red tape and offering remote work visa schemes is getting longer. It includes more locations in the Global North, as industrialized nations are often described. That’s because the competition is for long-term talent, not temporary tourists.
As of 2023, Spain’s residency visa is open to “international teleworkers,” which allows digital nomads to live in the land of Don Quixote, paella and Mediterranean beaches for a period of up to a year while they work remotely for an employer that’s based outside of Spain. You can apply at a Spanish embassy or consulate in your home country.
If you are already in Spain on a tourist visa, you can submit an application for a residency card as a digital nomad that will be valid for three years, and renewable for two.
Open to non-European Union citizens, Spain’s one-year remote work visa requirements, among others, include an income of at least double the Spain minimum wage (more than €2,600, or $2,750, a month, about $33,000 a year, for a solo traveler, a clean criminal record, private health insurance, a one-year employment contract with a company outside of Spain, and proof of sufficient work experience or a university degree in that field. Expect a fast-track, 20-day processing period.
Canada, which has long welcomed digital nomads for stays of up to six months while on a visitor visa, announced it’s working on a new “tech talent strategy” to attract foreign workers by the end of this year. The government is consulting with provinces and territories to find ways to promote Canada to digital nomads, and it’s working on allowing startups to apply for work permits of up to three years.
“In the longer term, we expect that some digital nomads would decide to remain in Canada by seeking job opportunities with, and bringing their skill sets to, Canadian employers,” says Isabelle Dubois, communications adviser and spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada in an emailed statement. “This would mean applying for a temporary work permit and/or permanent residence, and more fully contributing to Canada.”
“Ultimately, the strategy is set to, and best adapts to, the needs of high-skilled tech workers who have the opportunity to work remotely,” Dubois adds. Details on Canada’s remote worker initiatives will be shared in the coming months, the Office of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship confirmed.
Among the more affluent countries of South America, Uruguay opened up residence permits to digital nomads in May 2023 for six months, with the possibility to extend it to a year. The process is simple, provided you’re not the holder of a passport that requires a visa for entry: Fill an online data form, sign an affidavit stating you can support yourself financially during the stay, and provide a vaccination certificate. The opportunity is there to apply for temporary or permanent residency after that initial trial period.
Uruguay’s government said in an announcement that it’s attracting talent as part of its “business and innovation hub” reputation in the region.
All told, more than 60 countries currently offer remote work visa schemes. It’s a trend that’s going to accelerate, says Prithwiraj Choudhury, an associate professor at Harvard Business School who studies future work trends. “The whole world is moving in the direction of hybrid work.”
Choudhury says there’s a much bigger reason Western countries such as Spain and Canada have opened their doors to digital nomads, beyond tax and consumption dollars.
“They want to integrate their knowledge economies, because if a few hundred really smart knowledge workers spend time in the local community, then what might happen is that you will have connections being formed between these digital nomads and the locals,” he says. The local community would then benefit from knowledge spillovers.
That strategy isn’t new, Choudhury adds, citing Chile’s innovative startup initiative that began 12 years ago. While it wasn’t called a digital nomad visa at the time, the opportunity for foreign entrepreneurs to come in on an annual visa and spend time in Chile starting their company led to hundreds of other entrepreneurs doing the same over a decade.
“They hired local folks to work for their companies, and many of these locals then started their own companies, so now Chile has a vibrant startup scene,” says Choudhury.
From its inception in 2010 through at least August 2022, Start-Up Chile has brought in more than 5,000 entrepreneurs from 88 countries and given support to 2,200 startups, a paper by Choudhury confirms.
Spain’s digital nomad visa scheme is actually part of a new startup law that aims to foster the country’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and attract innovation and talent. The remote work visa turned residency card can count toward obtaining permanent residency there, which requires a stay of five years.
Working for a Spanish company part-time is also permitted as long as the pay doesn’t exceed 20% of the remote worker’s total foreign income.
Jovana Vojinovic, director of business development at Nomad Capitalist, based in the United Arab Emirates, which helps entrepreneurs relocate overseas, notes that taxes are high in Canada and may deter Western remote workers, but Canada’s program could be an attractive option for digital nomads who are from Latin America, Southeast Asia or the Middle East. They’re more likely to convert their visa into a regular work opportunity, she says.
Choudhury sees a similar opportunity for foreign workers who may be denied a US visa or green card renewal, given US immigration’s 65,000 annual cap for the H-1B visa, the temporary permit of three to six years allowing employers to petition for foreign professionals in a variety of specialty fields. Those employees could could relocate to Canada and work remotely from there for their American company.
Notably absent from the race for skilled digital nomads: the US. “Just as a destination for talent, America loses out,” to Canada, Spain, Portugal and Brazil and other locations where the cost of living or the weather is more favorable, says Choudhury.
The ease of access to long-term stays or to citizenship abroad, namely through property investments with tax breaks, has caused friction in places such as Portugal, with wealthy foreigners are blamed for elevating the cost of real estate and causing a housing crisis for locals. Still, no country has rescinded the remote work visa thus far, Vojinovic says.
The most popular inquiries received by Nomad Capitalist, Vojinovic adds, are for Mexico, Costa Rica, Portugal, United Arab Emirates, Panama, Thailand and Indonesia. Another continent to watch for digital nomadism: Africa.
“A lot of African countries are starting to introduce digital nomad visas, which I think is going to be a big move in the economies of those countries,” says Vojinovic. Namibia is the latest to open the door to a six-month remote work visa. Others include Cape Verde, Mauritius and Seychelles.
What should digital nomads look out for when choosing a destination? It depends on your goals, Vojinovic says.
“I would advise to look for whether a country serves the lifestyle that you want and whether the cost of living is [one] you can afford. Why do you want to move out of your home country? We would always look for those reasons and try to match them.”
- Workforce shifts – Remote vs Hybrid
- Europe’s ‘Golden Visas’ defy calls for closure as demand soars
- South Africa’s visa system crisis threatens German businesses and local jobs – Katzenellenbogen
To contact the author of this story:
Lebawit Lily Girma in Baltimore at [email protected]
© 2023 Bloomberg L.P.
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