Making International Remote Work… Work!

July 29, 2022

The following blog is a condensed version of an article written by Newland Chase’s Dan Morris for Mobility Magazine.
To read the full article, click here. The article starts on pg. 37.

More employees want to work remotely in destinations abroad—but just how effective are remote work policies, and how can companies stay compliant while supporting these new employee experiences?

Unquestionably, the COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated employers adapt to the “new normal,” in which employees are working remotely in destinations abroad—including destinations where the employer has no corporate entity or legal presence. Nearly two years after the onset of the pandemic, mobility managers have adapted and evolved policies to account for the challenges COVID-19 still presents.

But just how effective are these new policies? It’s important that we assess:

  1. How we started
  2. What we learned from the challenges
  3. What we did to make it work
  4. How the future of remote work will be handled

From Home Office to Digital Nomad

It was not long ago that the idea of commuting into an office and working a standard eight-hour work day was the norm. From there—and with the evolution of technology and the internet—we observed companies leveraging the capabilities of broadband internet, voice over internet protocol (VOIP), and videoconferencing to offer employees opportunities to work while not in the office. Fast-forward to the evolution of the home office, through which these off-site opportunities have become permanent and in some cases even span across borders. These employees undertaking cross-border remote work have become colloquially known as “digital nomads.”

The term “digital nomads” represents employees or individuals who “roam about” with no real fixed residence, without any other professional or financial hindrances due to the evolution in how employees can work utilizing today’s cutting-edge technology.

Two major challenges presented to employers by digital nomads are rooted in mobility policy and immigration compliance (along with several others, such as tax implications). For years, employers have tried to harmonize objectives from a business, recruitment, and employee retention standpoint. Creating or adjusting mobility policies to accommodate digital nomads appears to have done just that, until COVID-19 arrived at our doorsteps.

COVID-19’s Massive Disruption to Expatriate Assignments

There can be no question that the rapid onset of the COVID-19 pandemic left nearly everyone in the mobility industry frantically trying to ascertain what options remained for current assignees abroad, soon-to-be assignees gearing up to relocate, and business travelers who weren’t able to return home due to sudden border closures. For those “stuck” overseas, many had no choice but to work from laptops in their hotel accommodations.

Unsurprisingly, many employers had no policy whatsoever related to international remote work. In the absence of such policies, these assignees and business travelers caught in the crosshairs of sudden strict worldwide regulatory measures weren’t provided with the ideal expatriate experience one typically envisions. Two years ago, for many employers, the only option for assignees was repatriation, (sending someone back to their home country). Throughout the following year, strict immigration precautions were put into place by the international community, ranging from complete border closures—Australia, for example—to requirements for pre-departure PCR or antigen testing with subsequent post-arrival quarantine. Many gearing up for an international assignment would no longer have the opportunity, from an immigration standpoint.

For those fortunate employees now able to live and work as digital nomads in 2022, several issues are still at play when ascertaining whether international remote work is compliant with the local immigration regulations. In essence, the employer must prove that the open position cannot be sourced from the local labor market in the host destination and, as a result, the employer needs to hire a foreign assignee for the position. Countries such as Spain, Portugal, and Thailand are in the process of implementing visas for digital nomads into their immigration legislative framework. While not an impossible measure to overcome, employers have faced several challenges obtaining work permits when the duties of the position do not require the employee to be on-site at a local office or with a client, thus making acquiring a digital nomad visa a bit complex.

Employers Response to Unforeseen Red Tape

At least one company CIBT works with, a large research and development company based in San Francisco, has completely done away with their previous international remote work policy and opted for an approach that would allow, “any employee to work from anywhere for up to eight weeks.” In order to be eligible for international remote work under their company’s new policy, the company required visibility on these employees, along with immigration compliance and assessments for taxation.

Ultimately, the company left those decisions to the respective business units where the employee worked. This approach accomplishes the primary objective of protecting the business, yet it potentially shifts the compliance obligation to the employee alone, from a support and advice perspective. Regardless of whether the employee alone is tasked with this responsibility, employers should be advised there can be legal consequences if they do not undertake their own due diligence in these situations.

For example: Assume an employee under this policy wants to live and work remotely in France, comes back to his employer, and says, “Yes, we are OK from an immigration standpoint. As a U.S. national, I do not need a nomad visa for a stay of less than 90 days.” If the employer doesn’t conduct its own due diligence here it might be surprised to learn that France has no remote work visa options, and a U.S. national is in no way permitted to work without a work permit. An employer can open itself up to major risks in this situation.

Digital nomad visas seem to be the dream scenario for any employee looking to take advantage of a “work from anywhere” policy. These visas:

  1. Require no local entity for visa sponsorship
  2. What we learned from the challenges
  3. Have short processing times, typically from three weeks to three months
  4. Allow stays of up to 12 months—and are renewable in some destinations

Employers are continually advised to undertake their own immigration and employment legal diligence, as some destinations will not permit employees to work under a digital nomad visa when the visa holder’s employer already has a legal or corporate presence in-country. The general policy there is to prohibit employers from using the digital nomad visa as a way to circumvent standard work permit processing for other noncompliance reasons.

Looking Forward to 2023

The next year will likely see several other countries embracing international remote work by offering digital nomad visas. Consistent with that trend, employers then have excellent opportunities for recruitment and retention if their mobility policies evolve at the same pace as these new opportunities are arising. The pandemic has demonstrated over the last two years that employees not only desire the option to work remotely, but that many continue to achieve professional success in that capacity.

Now is the time for employers to revisit outdated mobility policies, collaborate with assignees on policy enhancement, and look for opportunities to showcase the versatility of the business to adapt to the many challenges still presented by the global regulatory environment. The next year is likely to see exciting developments in which non-sponsored global international remote work remains in the spotlight.

For more information on acquiring visas for digital nomads, contact your Client Services Manager today. Don’t have one? Contact us. We’re here to help make your journey a smooth one.

This immigration update is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for legal or scenario-specific advice. Furthermore, it is important to note that immigration announcements are subject to sudden and unexpected changes. Readers are encouraged to reach out to Newland Chase for any case- or company-specific assessments.