In mid-2020, Barbados became the first Caribbean country to introduce a special digital nomad visa programme allowing remote workers from abroad to legally work from Barbados for up to 12 months. Dubbed the Barbados ‘Welcome Stamp’, this special visa programme not only sparked immense interest from the time of its announcement but has been so successful that other countries have quickly adopted their own programmes. In this article, I first discuss why the value proposition of Barbados’ ‘Welcome Stamp’ makes it stand out among the competition. Second, I show why the programme is a ‘win-win’ for both ‘stampers’ and locals, given the benefits such a programme brings to the island.
The Rise Of The Geographically Mobile Worker
The geographically mobile worker was becoming a growing international phenomenon even before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the number of such workers is expanding as companies institute work from home policies as part of their COVID-19 containment and mitigation strategies. Remote workers often desire to work from warmer and safer climes, and, in many cases, to escape to countries where the COVID-19 pandemic has been better managed than their home countries. It is these global trends upon which the Government of Barbados (GOB) capitalised by instituting its ‘Welcome Stamp’, while leveraging the attributes that for years have made Barbados a much sought-after tourist destination.
The Digital Visa Programme Landscape
Since Estonia[i] launched the world’s first digital nomad visa programme in early June 2020, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Dubai (UAE), Georgia, Germany, Portugal, Mexico, Norway and Spain have since started their own. Barbados announced its programme on June 30, 2020 and subsequently passed the Remote Employment Act (Act 23 of 2020) bringing the programme into effect. Several other Caribbean countries, namely Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Dominica and most recently Montserrat now have their own similar programmes.
Digital nomad visa programmes worldwide share some commonalities, such as the need for applicants to show a valid passport and proof of a steady income earned from a job outside of the host country to ensure they can sustain themselves over the period. The visas are often granted for up to a year, and many require proof that the applicant already has a health insurance plan.
There are also some notable differences among the programmes. Antigua & Barbuda’s ‘Nomad Digital Residence Visa’ allows for stay of up to two years.[ii] Bermuda’s ‘Work From Bermuda Certificate’ has no minimum income requirement.[iii] Cayman’s programme requires proof of income of US$100,000 for individuals and US$150,000 for couples, but application fees are US$1,469.[iv] Mauritius’ Premium Visa charges no processing fee.[v]
Barbados’ Value Proposition
Although the space is becoming crowded, Barbados’ programme stands head and shoulders above the competition. From the programme’s announcement, the Barbados ‘Welcome Stamp’ immediately garnered much international interest and applications, with the majority of applicants coming from the USA where the COVID-19 pandemic was among the worst. Many ‘stampers’ are remote workers, but some are also students whose universities have shifted to an online learning format, allowing them to opportunity to study from paradise. A report by Barbados real estate group Terra Caribbean found that 67 per cent of applicants were individuals, 33 per cent were families and there was an approval rate of 78 per cent.[vi]
The ‘Barbados Welcome Stamp’ permits individuals and their eligible family members to legally stay in the island for up to 12 months. Applicants must also provide proof of their COVID-19 status. To be eligible, the applicant must also be a non-national of Barbados and must be employed in a country other than Barbados at the time of making the application and earning an annual income of US$50,000 or more. Welcome stampers are expressly forbidden from engaging in employment in Barbados other than the employment for which the Stamp was granted and the Minister in charge may revoke the Stamp of any person who contravenes or fails to comply with the provisions.
The applicant must possess both a valid passport and health insurance for the period for which the Stamp was granted. Welcome stampers need not worry about tax liability here as they are deemed not to be tax resident in Barbados for income tax purposes, which means that income earned while working from Barbados is not taxable in Barbados.
Unlike some of the other programmes internationally which require an applicant to apply in person, persons applying under the Barbados ‘Welcome Stamp’ have the convenience of completing and submitting their application, along with the required documents, electronically. The time period for processing compares favourably to other programmes.
Although Barbados’ non-refundable application fees, presently pitched at US$2,000 for individuals and US$3,000, rank among the higher end of the spectrum, Barbados’ value proposition more than justifies the fee.
Barbados’ high standard of living allows workers to work efficiently on the island thanks to its good quality infrastructure, good stock of A-class office space and its high-speed internet availability. On the basis of its income per capita, Barbados is ranked by the World Bank as a ‘high income non-OECD economy’[vii] and is 58th on the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index, 2020.[viii]
The island is easily reachable. Its lone airport, the Grantley Adams International Airport, is the air traffic hub for the eastern Caribbean, with direct flights from the US, UK and continental Europe. The island is in the same time zone as the US eastern seaboard and only four hours behind the UK. Stampers can work from home in comfort thanks to the wide range of real estate options, from quiet family bungalows to more luxurious townhouses, beachfront villas and condo options.
Benefits to Barbados
While it cannot completely replace the income lost by the COVID-19 inflicted decline in tourism revenues, the ‘welcome stamp’ has been a great way to provide some stimulus to the Barbados economy in the interim. Local real estate agencies on the island have reported increased demand for real estate services as a result of the programme. Welcome stampers also provide needed employment by hiring gardeners, nannies and house keepers, in addition to utilising the services of professionals like lawyers and accountants.
Stampers might also generate greater tourism and trade for the island. When they go back home, they might choose to return with their families and friends, demand products they enjoyed while in Barbados, and by word of mouth, lead others to come to Barbados. There are also ‘softer’ non-economic benefits, such as their involvement in philanthropic activities, such as charities and adopting pets from local shelters.
The Welcome Stamp not only offers remote workers value by providing a safe and high-quality locale from which to work but has been a critical source of economic activity at a time when the island needs it the most. As such, it is a ‘win-win’ for both stampers and locals alike.
Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc.(Hons), M.Sc. (Dist.), LL.B. (Hons) is an international trade and development specialist with over a decade of experience working in, and writing on, trade and development matters of interest to the Caribbean. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Political Science (First Class Honours), a Bachelor of Laws (Upper Second Class Honours), and a Masters in International Trade Policy (with distinction) from the University of the West Indies, and an Associate Degree in French, Spanish and German for Business and Tourism from the Barbados Community College. She also holds the FITT Diploma in International Trade from the prestigious Canadian-based Forum for International Trade Training (FITT) and has been a FITT General Member since 2015. She is also a member of the Michigan-based Academy for International Business (AIB) since 2016. Alicia presents and writes on a wide gamut of trade and development issues for regional and international publications and industry magazines. Her research interests include international business, MSMEs, AML/CFT issues, investment law and policy and investment migration programmes. She is also the author of one of the Caribbean's leading trade and development blogs www.caribbeantradelaw.com. Alicia is currently part of the research team of the Shridath Ramphal Centre for International Trade Law, Policy & Services of The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, the premier trade policy training, research and outreach institution in the Caribbean.