While nearly every industry has been gasping for air under the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic, none has been hit harder than tourism.
From April to September last year, the nation welcomed 5.89 million visitors, Tourism Bureau figures show. So far this year, the number plummeted to just 66,190 visitors, leaving many tourism businesses anxiously awaiting a coronavirus-free future.
In the meantime, some nations are finding a loophole in the advent of remote work. As the pandemic has necessitated a move to cyberspace, people are realizing that they do not need to live close to work — or even in the same country as their employers are based.
Tourism-reliant nations, eyeing these newly untethered workers, have begun offering special visas that make it easier for people to stay longer without being employed at a local company.
The pitch certainly sounds appealing. Caribbean nations such as Barbados, the Bahamas and, most recently, Anguilla, are luring applicants with the promise of making their beach paradise Zoom backgrounds real, while Estonia is offering the EU’s first “Digital Nomad Visa” to complement freelance visas in the Czech Republic, Germany and Spain.
Most of these plans require proof of a minimum monthly salary ranging from US$2,000 for Georgia’s visa to US$5,000 for Dubai’s one-year “virtual working program.”
Some countries make it easy for people to bring their dependents — for an extra fee. Applicants to the Barbados Welcome Stamp program are required to pay US$2,000 up front, or US$3,000 for a “family bundle.”
Remote work is sure to stick around even after the pandemic ends. Taiwan might consider getting its foot in the door early by offering a specialized visa to attract this new class of long-term travelers.
The nation’s resounding success in containing COVID-19 has already piqued interest among people abroad and those already in Taiwan looking for a safe place to ride out the pandemic. One indicator is the spike in the number of Gold Card recipients, which rose from 584 in January to more than 1,000 as of September.
The requirements for a Gold Card are similar to some of the remote work visas offered by other countries, as applicants must provide proof of a monthly salary of at least NT$160,000 over the past three years, but the scheme is not being marketed at remote workers.
The program’s success, despite a lack of promotion and its confusing process, offers a glimpse into the benefits a dedicated remote work visa could bring.
The nation could leverage its COVID-19 success, in addition to its natural beauty, healthcare and quality of life, to attract these nomadic workers. They would not only spend money on rent, food and other daily necessities, but also travel within Taiwan, all without drawing salaries from local firms.
Beyond these immediate benefits, visa holders, after experiencing life without COVID-19, would surely promote Taiwan to their family and friends, leading to more tourists down the road.
However, implementing such a program might pose a few challenges, given that most systems have not been set up with cross-national remote work in mind. Taxation and compliance are the main concerns, as companies would be on the hook for employing a tax resident of another country and complying with local labor laws.
To get around the first issue, Barbados has done away with tax requirements for Welcome Stamp recipients, transferring the charge instead to the hefty application fee.
If Taiwan succeeds in offering a simple visa process and robust marketing, it would have the opportunity to position itself as a top destination in the post-pandemic employment landscape.
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