Sector News

Working Across Borders: Why Estonia Is Launching a Visa for Digital Nomads

July 17, 2018
Borderless Leadership

It’s no secret that the way we work is changing. As a growing number of workers become “borderless,” opting to work online without a fixed location, governments and businesses have been left with the challenge of designing structures and systems to support the shift to location independence.

Related: Why Europe Is Facing a Digital Skills Crisis

Some industries have welcomed the change in the employment landscape more than others. Technology companies in particular are looking to accommodate remote workers due to an industry shortage of highly skilled talent and a culture built on challenging the status quo. Perhaps it’s not surprising then, that Estonia, with over six times more startups per capita than the European average, is at the forefront of developing credible, government-backed solutions to the challenges posed by the decoupling of geography from productivity.

With a population of just under 1.3 million and continent-leading digital infrastructure, Estonia is currently in the process of developing a new visa designed specifically for digital nomads from around the world. Earlier this year, leaders from the digital nomad community joined my company Jobbatical to advise the Estonian Ministry of the Interior to put a framework in place to develop the world’s first visa for borderless workers. Under the proposed plan, digital nomads will enjoy access to Estonia for a year, as well as the Schengen Area for up to 90 days, to enable them to live and work in the EU.

The idea is based on a simple premise: the desire to allow nomadic workers to enjoy the same regulatory and legal benefits provided to their static counterparts. Let me explain — the main obstacle for borderless workers is that the policy framework does not recognize that kind of working. Work permits are typically available if you have a specific employer in the location that you are moving to. Alternatively, nomads can use a tourist visa, but by entering with that and working remotely they will be acting as an illegal worker in the eyes of the law. With large numbers of workers operating on a flexible basis — both in terms of their job roles and location — what options are available for individuals that work remotely or for multiple organizations at the same time?

Related: How European Entrepreneurs Can Prepare for the Digital Skills Gap

With this in mind, Estonia recognized the need to bring government regulations into the 21st century, developing a clear system of rules that help, not hinder, location independent workers. The new visa, which will be on par with all other types of work visas currently available, is planned to be formally launched in 2019. Lucky nomads that obtain this visa will be given full access to a range of citizen services and rights and will be able to reside and remain within the country for up to a year. In addition, visa holders will be able to travel — and work — for up to 90 days in the Schengen Area, which comprises 26 countries including Germany, Italy and Spain.

The decision to create the visa comes as Estonia’s landmark e-residency scheme continues to grow, with the country seeing more applications to the program than births in 2017. By combining initiatives such as these, Estonia hopes to attract thousands of highly skilled workers to its booming tech industry, providing companies with the most important ingredient for success — people.

By: Karoli Hindriks

Source: Entrepreneur Europe

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