December 28, 2020

Remote Work is a Golden Opportunity for the Caribbean

Shannon Clarke

@shannonajclarke
Remote Work is a Golden Opportunity for the Caribbean

Earlier this year, the world was thrown into turmoil due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the global outbreaks, social distancing protocols were enacted to reduce physical travel and public gatherings. One of the many casualties of this travel break was the Caribbean tourism economy which primarily depends on the flow of tourists to and from their special destinations. While many Governments introduced programs to support tourist attractions, it soon became clear that the pandemic would likely last into 2021. With this in mind, it soon became clear that the time had come to adapt or die. Fortunately, Caribbean islands are moving rapidly to attract a new demographic by focusing their promotions on foreigners who wish to relocate to a Caribbean island for a period of one to two years. This move has been embraced by tourist attractions that initially sought to support their local remote workers and are seeing a new opportunity with foreign workers.

This change has depended a lot on how well the Caribbean has handled the COVID19 pandemic and ensured that there were no outbreaks from tourist arrivals. In both ways, Barbados has been leading the Caribbean in both COVID19 response and the introduction of its Welcome Stamp program, other Caribbean islands are swiftly moving to take advantage by introducing their remote work initiatives to attract digital nomads, tech professionals and other high net worth tourists seeking refuge from the persistent lockdowns.

Benefits

While work visa programmes in the Caribbean are nothing new, Barbados has been the first to publicly advertize a remote work initiative (the Welcome Stamp program) far and wide with several announcements and interviews were given by Prime Minister Mia Mottley to sensitize the global communities of travellers. While the requirements do target high net-worth individuals, the program has attracted mass appeal and generated discussions online and offline. Barbados Minister of Tourism Lisa Cummins recently announced that in the past 6 months the initiative has already yielded over USD 1 million in payments so far. With the current Winter session when other countries are entering yet another lockdown period, that number has no doubt risen drastically so this initiative has proven to be a much-needed boost to the local economies and tourism businesses which were arguably on life support. It is, therefore, no small wonder that other Caribbean countries are quickly launching and promoting their programs

A quick comparison

A quick comparison of the currently publicized programmes (at the time of writing) throughout the Caribbean islands shows several similarities among the programs with the major differentiator being the social circumstances of each Caribbean country such as politics, economic disparity, social services, welfare, violent crime, etc

CountryApplication Fee (USD)Visa LengthMinimum income (USD)
Anguilla$2,000(single) $3,000(family)91 days/12 monthsunknown
Antigua$1,500 (single) $2,000 (couple) $3,000(family)24 months$50k per annum
Barbados$2,000(single) $3,000(family)12 months$50k per annum
Bermuda$26312 monthsunknown
Cayman$1,469(couple)24 months$100k per annum

The above information is summarized from this article and may be out of date so please refer to the included official links for reference info.

Attracting digital nomads & the Diaspora

Perhaps not surprisingly, these programs have gained particular interest with members of the Caribbean Diaspora who are seeing an opportunity to not only seek a haven in the Caribbean but also reconnect with family and friends without leaving their jobs. This has bolstered a previously underserved market for co-working spaces and remote offices. Working in co-working spaces was primarily the domain of small business owners and technology entrepreneurs who either utilized the few official spaces for meetings and high-speed internet or more regularly, utilized the available spaces at coffee shops and hotel lobbies. Before COVID19, this was not always encouraged with some hotel lobbies forbidding the practice much to the chagrin of their hopeful patrons. That has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic and we are seeing an increase in the available co-working spaces and the amenities that they provide.

Opportunities for Caribbean people

While the Caribbean may not have faced the same lethal impact of COVID-19 as the rest of the world, it has suffered from a drastic spike in an already high unemployment rate particularly among young people which in some islands has reached above 50%. Regardless of the state of the tourism economy, this could spell disaster for the Caribbean Governments particularly where tourism revenues are often generated indirectly and tourism spend has been gradually declining. Therefore, it is very important to consider that with the influx of long-stay tourist arrivals (and potentially digital nomads) then there will be opportunities for local service providers as tourists seek to not only enjoy their vacation but also to continue doing business. This means that a C-level executive may be looking for a personal assistant, a family may be looking for a dedicated taxi driver or courier, and a technology entrepreneur may wish to collaborate with local software developers and designers.

Looking ahead

On the other hand, we must consider that the increase of long-stay tourism arrivals, the majority of whom will be coming with heavier pockets and potentially different trades, will increase existing challenges including, but not limited to, the following:

  1. Increased competition in the local business environment
  2. Price increases in real estate
  3. An increase in cyber-security attacks on local infrastructure

As I mentioned before, the Caribbean has always been a tourism destination with specific attractions for high net-worth individuals. The genius behind these remote work programs is to shift the global impression of the Caribbean beyond "sun, sea, and sand". Therefore it would be best for Caribbean Governments to consider how to encourage repeat visits from these long-stay tourists and with that in mind, there are many opportunities to engage and re-engage digital nomads and high net-worth individuals who may be taking a fresh look at the Caribbean at this time. I believe that it will be the responsibility of both the Government and enterprising citizens to take advantage of this global interest while also creating economic and social opportunities. A few methods that come to mind are as follows:

  1. Encourage tourists to benefit from tax agreements by establishing local subsidiaries of an existing company or partnering with local professionals
  2. Reduce the strain of tourists travelling with their family by streamlining the provision of citizen services for housing and healthcare
  3. Encourage tourists to invest in the local economy with job listing websites for remote employers to recruit local in-demand technical skills
  4. Increase in online marketplaces offering local goods and services
  5. Coworking spaces to facilitate those who need a quick office during their stay

This is perhaps the first time that Caribbean Governments are approaching the tourism industry with a somewhat unified message that the Caribbean is more than "sun, sand, and sea" and is equally attractive for those who wish to work and thrive while remaining connected to global opportunities.