The expansion of remote work has removed geographic barriers between employers and talent, and offered both unprecedented opportunities for growth. It is now possible for talented professionals to become digital nomads and work from anywhere in the world.
New employment, immigration and tax compliance challenges are presented by the introduction of remote work visa programs in over 20 countries worldwide. Businesses that consider new mobility policies to incorporate remote work visas will be in a good position to take advantage of the growing pool of talented individuals seeking to work from across the globe.
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The trend of remote work is permanent for many professionals. Two-thirds of white-collar employees in the United States are telecommuting, according to a Gallup Poll. Nine in ten remote workers want to keep their jobs in the future, according to a poll.
Professionals in the U.S. wish to live and work abroad. According to a survey conducted by MetLife, 70% of American employees would be interested in taking an overseas assignment through their employer. Most U.S. professionals used to be office-based and rarely had the opportunity to work overseas.
A small number of digital nomads started their overseas assignments by working remotely in part-time or contract roles while living in countries abroad or moving from place to place. Digital nomadism was a niche trend in the pre-pandemic era, and most companies in the U.S. did not allow employees to work remotely.
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Over 20 countries have introduced remote work visa programs in the past few years, including Australia, Germany, Iceland, the United Arab Emirates, Mexico, the Bahamas, Hungary, Brazil, Costa Rica, Greece, the Czech Republic, Croatia and more. The visas allow professionals to live and work in countries without being sponsored by an employer.
The expansion of remote work and the introduction of remote work visa programs in these countries align with creating a new class of digital nomads. Many of these new digital nomads will be experienced professionals who want to continue to work for their U.S. based employers while temporarily living and working in a country abroad on a remote work visa. Will employers support remote employees working abroad if more of them request a move in the future?
Employers, employees, and remote work visas given that U.S. professionals now place such a high value on mobility and flexibility, many employees may be ready to jump at the chance to seek out a remote work visa to live and work abroad. Employers need time and information to assess this new and unexplored opportunity before they decide whether or not to incorporate it into their corporate mobility programs. It’s important for employers to figure out what risks they face by allowing remote work.
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On initial examination, remote work visas may allow employers to grant employees overseas work opportunities with less bureaucracy than applying for employer-sponsored work visas. One of the main advantages over employment-sponsored visas is that the employee starts and manages the application. The process to apply for a remote work visa is quick and easy, and application fees are typically lower than employer-sponsored visas.
Complicating the appearance of simplicity with remote work visas is employers. While immigration requirements for remote work visas are easy for employees to navigate, employers need to consider tax, payroll, data security and privacy implications of an employee working in a country abroad.
Employers need to review and understand the specific country’s requirements to allow an employee to work on a remote work visa. If the destination country doesn’t provide a tax exemption for the employer, the employer could be liable for taxes in that country. Without an employer already having a presence in the country, supporting an employee for a remote work visa could require a lot of attention.
Employers are tasked with determining if granting employees opportunities to seek out remote work visas makes sense for their business. This may seem daunting given how new remote work visas are to the global mobility landscape, however, employers can follow simple strategies derived from past immigration policies to assess the pros and cons and decide what is best for their business
Employers can use the experiences of adjusting to past shifts in the immigration and employment landscape to adopt innovative approaches to support remote work visas.
The first step for employers is to define their limits. Similar to setting parameters for green card sponsorship for foreign national employees in the U.S., employers can also set criteria for supporting remote work visas. To ensure the integrity of work operations and that the business meets all local requirements, employers can determine which countries employees are permitted to seek remote work visas.
To begin, employers should seek the advice of immigration legal counsel, global tax experts, and other advisors to determine which countries are suitable for their employees to work. An employer may be comfortable with allowing an employee to pursue a remote work visa if they have a legal presence in the country, but may have concerns about other countries with limited access to communication infrastructure and data privacy.
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Once a list of approved countries is established, employers can set other parameters for employees. Employers may consider setting durational limits for employees on remote work visas as extended stays in those locations may impact long-term operations and increase immigration and tax liability
Clear expectations and guidelines should be established for the employees who are allowed to seek out remote work visas. Regardless of where they work, remote staff must understand regional and national requirements as well as any limitations that may be pertinent to them. Employers should use global mobility services and technologies to mitigate the risks associated with the remote work visa programs. Better compliance practices can be provided by making these resources directly available to employees.
The circumstances and goals of employers can be very different. Employers should be flexible and proactive to stay competitive by adopting new corporate mobility policies, including incorporating remote work visas, because there is no single right answer to addressing the ever-evolving remote work options in the United States and abroad.