SA can capitalise on Nomad visas, reap myriad benefits

Forward-thinking Home Affairs Minister Leon Schreiber. Photo: Ayanda Ndamane/Independent Newspapers

Forward-thinking Home Affairs Minister Leon Schreiber. Photo: Ayanda Ndamane/Independent Newspapers

Published Jul 7, 2024


By Antonia Bothner

The new South African remote work or digital nomad visa could be a game-changer for the local tech industry and entrepreneurs, providing a positive step towards positioning the country as a global hub for remote work, innovation and skills transfer. The visa, which came into effect on May 20 this year will also contribute to the economy, tourism and cultural exchange.

The remote visa allows foreign nationals earning more than R1 million per year from foreign employers to legally work remotely from South Africa for up to three years. This is expected to attract high-earning professionals and entrepreneurs to the country, driving local economic growth and development.

From an economic perspective, remote nomad visas bring in foreign income, stimulate local spending, and attract skilled professionals who can contribute to the country’s workforce and innovation ecosystem. This influx of diverse talent leads to knowledge-exchange, cross-cultural collaboration, and the creation of new opportunities for local residents and expatriates.

This is a huge opportunity for South Africa to benefit from a growing global trend that is delivering real benefits for the economies, tourism industries and entrepreneurial ecosystems for the countries which have adopted these types of visas.

It was encouraging to hear new Home Affairs Minister Leon Schreiber say work visas were high on his agenda. He committed to improve the processes for work visas, saying they are critical for economic growth. He also expressed excitement about the recent move towards a remote working visa, which would make a huge difference when implemented.

“That is the first opportunity to signal to the world that SA is actually serious about attracting what we need for our economy,” he said.

The issue of remote visas has been transformative in several countries. Portugal offers two-year renewable work visas with proof of employment. Many other countries offering similar visas, usually requiring proof of income and employment include Spain, Italy, Greece, Brazil, UAE, Thailand, Indonesia, Mauritius, and the Seychelles.

According to Pieter Levels, founder of the Nomad List, there are expected to be 1 billion digital nomads working across the world by 2035.

One just needs to look globally to see how beneficial these visas are, because young talent that is so mobile, digital, and forward-thinking is infusing fresh perspectives, energy and talent in the countries where they are working.

South Africa has good internet access, offers a very high quality of life and a relatively low cost of living. Simplifying and expediting the granting of these visas will facilitate movement, break down barriers, and should open doors to an additional flow of talent and capital – which often go hand in hand – into South Africa.

According to Harvard Business Review, digital nomads invest their time and money in the local economy without taking local jobs, and build bridges with local knowledge workers, helping workers and local communities. Digital nomads may play a key role in fostering entrepreneurship and the creation of technology clusters. It also said foreign entrepreneurs congregating in a shared space for even a few months can spur new connections and new enterprises.

I expect new visa regulations to result in injecting energy, fresh perspectives, and more important the message that our country is open for business. We are moving to a more open-sourced way of thinking, and this is vital for the country. Not only will this yield benefits to the economy overall, but with skills transfer being a big component, it is essentially an investment in our productive capacity now and for the future.

Antonia Bothner is Endeavor South Africa capital markets lead.