In the fast-changing world of business and leisure, there's a popular travel trend gaining ground: digital nomadism. This lifestyle allows individuals to live and work in foreign countries while being employed remotely by companies based elsewhere.
Governments often refer to these arrangements as residence permits or create unique terms for them. Essentially, these permits are valid for around a year and the renewal process varies by country.
According to Richard Firth, the chairperson and CEO of software engineering firm MIP Holdings, digital nomadism is a form of “longevity tourism” aimed at high-earning individuals with valuable intellectual property.
Unlike the typical two or three-week tourist, digital nomad visas offer an extended stay, ranging from one to two years, depending on the host country.
While many countries are quick to embrace this new way of working, South Africa seems to be trailing behind.
In 2021, the Covid-19 pandemic prompted people to work from home, and the concept of digital nomadism is portrayed as an appealing blend of work and leisure.
In March 2022, a survey conducted by the Western Cape Government's Department of Economic Development and Tourism, which involved tourism industry associations, film industry stakeholders, and immigration and visa facilitation agencies, revealed that 68% of respondents considered it crucial for South Africa to introduce remote work visas.
This would enable the country to take full advantage of the growing trend in the post-pandemic era.
Additionally, Richard Firth highlighted that an estimated 40% of South Africa's 120,000-strong software developer workforce already work remotely for foreign companies.
The availability of digital nomad visas in neighbouring countries could potentially lead to a talent drain, with skilled professionals seeking opportunities elsewhere.
This reinforces the urgency for South Africa to adapt to the evolving landscape of remote work and digital nomadism.
Firth provided an example to illustrate that someone residing in South Africa, earning income in dollars, might opt to leverage a nomad visa and decide to live and work in a different location.
These opportunities include a wide range of professions, such as those with degrees in Computer Science, Digital Marketing, Graphic Design or Multimedia Arts, Education, Foreign Languages, English or Journalism, and Business.
The possibilities are virtually limitless.
It’s without a doubt that digital nomads tend to be high-earning professionals who can significantly boost local economies. They bring in foreign currency and can stimulate various sectors, such as hospitality, real estate, and local businesses.
Delaying this process means missing out on potential economic growth and job creation.
If digital nomad visas are more readily available in other neighbouring countries, there's a risk of losing these skills as individuals seek opportunities elsewhere.