Tuesday 4 August 2020

Innovative island nations

An intriguing proposal from an innovative island nation offering safer respite from the pandemic:
The government of a Caribbean island has a tantalizing suggestion for quarantine-weary Canadians: Working from home is a lot more palatable when you're doing it remotely from a tropical paradise.

The island nation of Barbados has launched something it's calling a Barbados Welcome Stamp, a one-year remote working visa that gives foreigners the right to live and work remotely in Barbados while they ride out the COVID-19 pandemic.

Starting now, applicants can send in their personal information at a portal website. The application will be processed within 72 hours, at which point they may be approved to come live and work remotely in Barbados.

There are a few stipulations, namely that you have to make $50,000 US a year and there's a non-refundable fee of $2,000 US for an individual and $3,000 US for families, but once that's paid, a successful applicant is all set.

"You don't need to work in Europe, or the U.S or Latin America if you can come here and work for a couple months at a time, go back and come back," Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley said when she first suggested the idea earlier this month.
There would be a lot of interest in this kind of option in New Zealand as well, with arrivals covering their own costs of testing and of managed isolation. Because I've been rather active in this space, I get emails from folks abroad who'd be eager to join us. This one came in last week: 
Greetings Dr. Crampton,
I noticed your tweet last week, quoted here:
"It is really hard to overstate the potential gains if NZ can sort out scaling up managed isolation to enable some of these workers to bring their jobs with them to work remotely from here." -- @EricCrampton
My wife and I are former XXXXXX engineering Directors who just left XXXXXX to start a start-up. We're US-born, living in Northern California. We realized it would be great to work in NZ for a year or a few years, not just because of covid, but because the US political situation is not great. In the time of pre-Covid NZ immigration, it looks like this was easy, and we probably would already be in NZ on a short-term visa, and would be applying for an entrepreneur's visa, with the idea of staffing up starting in NZ.
But of course there is Covid. My best understanding of the NZ gov web sites is that there are no channels open to us now,
Can you share any advice about how we should best proceed?  Of course, if there's someone better for us to talk to or work with (whether in the domain of gov, org, or commercial expediters), please let me know.
I advised my correspondent that nothing here is likely to change this side of the election, so they might either wait, or try a more innovative island nation like Barbados instead. They've said they're waiting. 

Safely scaling up managed isolation matters. 

I cover this stuff in this week's column over at Newsroom - currently gated, but usually comes ungated later in the week. A snippet:
Effective capacity in managed isolation has increased to just over 14,000 arrivals per month. While that sounds like a lot, the average month in 2019 saw over 250,000 Kiwis returning home after business trips, foreign study, holidays, or visits with friends and family. Non-resident Kiwis returning home from abroad for the longer term added about another 1,750 per month.

There will not be a lot of Kiwis keen on travelling to the Covid-ridden parts of the world, but the longer the pandemic lasts, the harder it will be to continue to defer travel. Even if Kiwis cut their travel to a quarter of what it was before Covid, they would still take up more than four times as much room as is available in the managed isolation system. Add to that tally the Kiwis abroad who would also like to come home, as well as the overseas specialists necessary in a wide range of business and infrastructure projects, and the need to safely scale up managed isolation becomes rather obvious.

If the Government expected vaccines or effective treatment to be just around the corner, maintaining the system as it is could be defensible. People can usually defer travel for a few months, barring emergency cases. Holidays to visit family and friends abroad can be delayed. Big trips abroad are once-in-a-lifetime events for a lot of us and putting them off for a year might not matter so much – and especially when going abroad is particularly unappealing. Business trips can be delayed, with video chats taking their place in the short term.

But the longer this all lasts, the harder it is to defer travel.

The odds of family emergencies abroad get higher over longer periods. 1.2 million Kiwis were born overseas. If ten percent of them have a family emergency in any given year requiring a trip abroad, that’s 10,000 spaces in managed isolation per month as they return home.

The costs of forgoing business travel increase as opportunities deferred become lost contacts and contracts – over 32,000 Kiwis returned from business trips abroad every month, before Covid. And companies here needing foreign experts can only defer those arrivals for so long before costs start rapidly escalating.

None of this is any argument for prioritising ‘the economy’ or business over health. Any outbreak here resulting in another lockdown would be economically devastating. Rather, it is an argument for building the systems and infrastructure necessary to be able to safely accommodate far more travellers than the system can currently handle.

By these numbers, scaling up is critical even if we consider only the needs of Kiwis. If we allow ourselves to think a bit more broadly, it becomes even more important.

New Zealand’s success in managing Covid makes the country a very attractive proposition. Students who would have studied in America, but who do not like the prospect of lectures via Zoom, could find studying here to be a very attractive alternative.

And many abroad, working remotely due to the pandemic, could bring their jobs with them to work remotely from here instead. As they would continue to be paid by their overseas employers, their work in New Zealand would count as the export of a service while they spent their earnings, and paid taxes, here. Other countries rightly see this opportunity: last week, Barbados began offering a one-year remote working visa encouraging people to bring their jobs with them to their island in the Caribbean.

The system has to change.  

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