The remote work visa, our shelter from the COVID-19 storm?
Legal NotesWednesday, August 04, 2021
With Joanna Marzouca
Since March 2020, when COVID-19 hit our shores we have been forced to adjust, readjust and acclimatise to our constantly changing “new” normal.
In the commercial context, one of the most dramatic “new normals” is the increased practice of 'work from home'.
Interestingly enough, working from home is now becoming a staple in workplaces all over the world, allowing for greater flexibility and, in some cases, productivity. In Jamaica, the Disaster Risk Management Act indicates that arrangements that provide for work from home should be permitted in public bodies and in the private sector encouraged, and in specified cases at the employee's request may be required.
It therefore comes as no surprise that as early as May 2020, several multinational companies, particularly those in the tech industry such as Twitter, announced that they would make permanent the work from home. Employees, consequently, now have the option to work from home, or anywhere else in the world, where they feel they are most productive.
Remote Work Visa
Over the last year, some countries have taken the decision to maximise on the 'work from home' culture and offer what is referred to “remote work visas”. Essentially, a remote work visa allows for a foreign national and their dependents to remain in a foreign country and work remotely in that country for a specified amount of time.
Almost 30 countries, including several in the Caribbean, such as Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bermuda, Cayman Islands and Anguilla, have announced the intention to or the implementation of a remote work visa regime. The attraction of the remote work visa is that foreign nationals may otherwise have been required to obtain a work permit to work in the respective country, remotely or otherwise. This application process can be time consuming and costly and has significantly been affected the restrictions on movement as a result of COVID-19.
The primary objectives behind the remote work visa are to allow for an increase in visitors to the respective countries for longer periods of time, reducing the traffic in and out of the country, and to generate income to help make up for what is being lost due to the restrictions and outcomes of the novel coronavirus pandemic. For Caribbean countries that are heavily reliant on their tourism industries, this avenue of revenue may be the well needed shelter from the storm. While people are working remotely it is hoped that they will utilise goods and services in that country and also opt to participate in tourist attractions and entertainment in accordance with the protocols implemented in the respective country.
There are eligibility requirements for the remote visa which vary by country. By way of example, in Barbados, the applicant must have an annual income of not less than US$50,000 per annum and existing insurance. Once the applicant is eligible, they simply prepare and submit the online application along with the accompanying documentation (for example, their birth certificate and passport photos) and pay the non-refundable application fee.
In Barbados, applications are processed within one week of the application being submitted. Barbados reported receiving over 1,000 applications within the first week, primarily from the United States of America, Canada and Britain. The only applications which were reported to have been denied were those where the applicant did not meet the eligibility requirements.
It is important to note that a remote work visa does not allow the foreign national to work locally, they are limited to working remotely and not related to employment in the country. The income tax requirements seem to vary by country, with some allowing the remote worker to be exempt from paying local income tax and others requiring local income tax be paid. In Barbados, the remote worker is not required to pay local income tax.
The Jamaican Context
Jamaica does not currently have in place any accommodation for foreign nationals and Commonwealth citizens to work remotely and we are not aware of any plans to implement same. In fact, the Foreign Nationals and Commonwealth Citizens (Employment) Act (“the Act”) requires that a foreign national or a Commonwealth citizen other than a Caricom national is required to possess a valid work permit if they are engaged in any occupation in Jamaica for reward or profit or is employed in Jamaica. This means that foreign nationals and Commonwealth citizens other than Caricom nationals who intend to work remotely while based in Jamaica would be required to obtain a work permit in order to do so. If one were to travel to Jamaica and work remotely, without having a valid work permit, this would constitute a breach of the Act.
There are significant advantages to the implementation of remote work visas to the country, the employer and the employee. In the case of a country, particularly like Jamaica whose economy is heavily reliant on tourism, it introduces foreign exchange into the economy to replace what is being lost due to the reduction in tourism resulting from the restrictions imposed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, it increases the number of visitors in Jamaica on “long stays”. If visitors remain in Jamaica for longer periods of time, they spend more with a longer stays.
In the employment context, remote work should now be a consideration in workplace policies and employment contracts. The novel coronavirus pandemic has placed a much-needed spotlight on the importance of mental health generally and studies show that by allowing remote work, within or outside of the country, employees are able to have a work life balance that allows for better mental health and in turn, productivity. In the Jamaican context, if given the opportunity by their employer's foreign nationals and Commonwealth citizens are sure to seek out our paradise with its beautiful beaches and climate as a place to work remotely.
Shelter from the Storm
COVID-19 has severely affected Jamaica's tourism driven economy. It is safe to say that the end of economic and social storm that is COVID-19 is not in sight and its effects are likely to linger even after the pandemic is over, whenever that may be. The pandemic has forced the world to adapt and adjust to this 'new normal' and find innovative ways to navigate through this financial storm. Jamaica should seek shelter by considering the implementation of a remote work visa to make up for the shortfall caused by the restrictions implemented to reduce the spread of this disaster. It may be time to get a head start on the redevelopment that is surely needed to cope with the devastation caused by the natural disaster we still face, called COVID-19.
— Joanna Marzouca is an associate at Myers, Fletcher & Gordon, and is a member of the firm's Commercial Department. Joanna may be contacted via Helen.Liu@mfg.com.jm or www.myersfletcher.com. This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.
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