With Covid-19 facilitating a mass shift towards remote work, the digital nomad phenomenon is set for continued expansion in the coming years, as businesses offload expensive office space, and employers and employees alike become more accustomed to working remotely.
The pandemic ironically created one possible solution: digital nomad visas are helping to bring in international visitors, who can support local economic needs while providing picturesque environments for their remote jobs. Digital nomads are people who work remotely, only needing a computer and Wi-Fi to perform their jobs.
These people live in a nomadic way, often keeping a permanent residence but travelling to various locations for short periods. The new normal will continue and accelerate the move towards digital spaces, which, without in-person interaction, are abstract and hard for many to grasp.
When we lost our physical nearness, we created emotional bridges that connected us in new and significant ways. It turns out that it took constrained distancing to bring out our most complete and true humankind.
According to Namibia Investment Promotion and Development Board (NIPDB), the Namibia digital nomad visa will be issued for six months. The Namibian government implemented a new digital nomad visa to welcome smart tourists. Their goal is to boost tourism while also diversifying the local businesses and economy.
The digital nomad visas are similar to a full-time work permit in that they enable foreign citizens to relocate to a country and work legally from there with a residency permit. These visas typically require proof of income and remote employment. This means digital nomads invest their time and money in the local economy without taking local jobs, and they build bridges with local knowledge workers – a win-win for both remote workers and local communities.
Furthermore, digital nomads can play a key role in fostering entrepreneurship and the creation of technology clusters in the host country. Foreign entrepreneurs can spur new connections and new enterprises. Therefore, it is clear that digital nomads and remote workers, in general, can be a boon to the economy, spending money, facilitating collaboration and spurring innovation. However, Namibia should strengthen the policy pertaining to this new model of working.
Moreover, the term digital nomad, which first appeared in 1997, refers to a location-independent, technology-enabled lifestyle. Enabling technologies are associated with the global deployment of high-speed internet, video conferencing tools as well as online collaboration platforms for teams and cloud solutions. Working remotely may enable one to access a higher quality of life environment and choose a more favourable tax regime.
Digital nomad visas may offer many promising opportunities, but they could also create fresh challenges. They can, for example, spark a rise in local living costs, increase competition for resources and create bubbles of privilege. The researchers indicate that having a class of workers who uses local infrastructure and services but does not pay any taxes for them can also create resentment among tax-paying residents.
Some experts also question whether digital nomad visas will gain much traction in the first place.
Danish Soomro, founder and CEO of global mobility database visas, says larger segments of nomads still use the three-to-six-month tourist visa option for various reasons, such as the complications in applying for digital nomad visas.
Soomro says burdensome paperwork, costly medical exams and challenges demonstrating proof of monthly income can leave many nomads more inclined to just enter as a tourist and take a quick visa run across the border when needed. They are, after all, peripatetic by nature.
Additionally, being a digital nomad requires a job that is remote and flexible. This is especially important when it comes to logging in hours when there is a time difference. Although these kinds of jobs have become more common in the wake of Covid-19, this may be a guaranteed deal-breaker for some companies and workers.
Moving around frequently from one country to another can be stressful, especially when you consider the culture, values and norms. It can also be expensive. That is not even accounting for the cost of the visa itself. And if the application for your next destination is rejected, you could be left scrambling to find a new place to live before you are forced to leave once your current visa expires. Moving around can also make it harder to form long-lasting relationships, while the constant distance can also put a strain on existing ones.
Unless a country offers you permanent residency when your temporary visa expires, there is little point in putting down roots where you will not be living after a few months. And although this lack of ties can be seen as a plus to those who value their independence, anyone thinking about a lengthy period abroad should carefully consider how isolating it might be.
Going forward, through innovations and investments, the Namibian economy can harness digital data and new technologies, generate new content, link individuals with markets and government services and roll out new, sustainable business models. Recent surveys reveal that remote work is a growing phenomenon – to which both countries and companies must eventually adapt. Flexibility in work has been championed by employees and embraced by some employers over the last two years and has now become an expectation for a majority of employees.
As noted, local consumption and contribution to tourism-dependent economies are often cited as potential benefits of the digital nomad. It may also be possible to adapt existing immigration policies to accommodate remote work, rather than create a standalone pathway for digital nomads if the country sees a benefit. Possible adaptations and flexibilities may include explicit authorisations for tourist or business visa holders to work remotely for a limited period of time or greater leeway for immigrant workers to change their work location or switch to hybrid work.
To this end, the Namibia Investment Promotion and Development Board (NIPDB) hopes the programme will boost the destination’s post-pandemic economy by attracting long-stay international visitors hence the move to introduce Namibia digital nomad visa comes as the country hopes to entice 1 480 000 annual overseas visitors by 2023 and move away from sun seeker tourism towards a more sustainable model.