what HR needs to know

Digital nomads are those who combine work with travel, using technology and the internet to log in from anywhere. This work-travel formula isn’t new, but following the success of remote work during the pandemic and now that borders have reopened, more and more people are wanting to try it.

While technology has made working remotely very accessible, the immigrant status of digital nomads has historically been a more difficult issue, with many working without immigration permits from the beach of their choosing. This is because most countries only offer work visas where the employee is sponsored and employed by a local company, guaranteeing that they will receive a minimum salary and meet certain qualification requirements. This doesn’t always work given the transient nature of digital nomads, who are often self-employed and don’t need or want a sponsor tying them to one place.

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However, countries such as Dubai, Italy and Brazil have recognized this as an opportunity. Dubai was one of the first countries to offer a remote work visa, giving high-earning workers the opportunity to work from Dubai for their employer for up to a year. It wasn’t long before Brazil and Italy followed suit, offering similar visa routes. But why?

Digital nomad visas tend to be relatively cheap and easy to apply for, and reduce the likelihood of illegal work. Often issued for limited periods of time, they also represent a practical loophole for immigration policy – ​​allowing an influx of potentially high-income individuals to give the local economy a short, strong boost without taking away valuable jobs from local people.

So what should employers do when their employees ask if they can apply for a digital nomad visa? Before agreeing to this request, you must understand what the laws in the destination country dictate. For example, while the employee may have the right to work remotely from Portugal, you will need to assess how their salary should be taxed to ensure they do not break Portuguese tax and social security laws. Workers working from home may be entitled to Portuguese labor rights (e.g. the right to switch off outside normal working hours) from day one, regardless of what their employment contract says. Other considerations include whether there is an obligation to register the employee with local authorities, whether there are problems with data transfers across borders and what the minimum health and safety requirements are.

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If you choose to allow this, you should put in place clear processes so your employees know how to apply for a visa and when to do so. Will the visa be entirely the responsibility of the staff member to arrange and pay for? Do they need a letter of support from you?

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In most cases there is no obligation for the employer to notify the Home Office in the UK that an employee is working remotely. However, you may want to make your employees aware of the impact that teleworking could have on their right to work in the UK: if an employee is working in the UK on a visa, the time spent outside the UK may prevent them from settle down here permanently.

Alex Christen leads the Business Immigration team at Capital Law