At the outset of this blog, exactly 27 articles ago, I mentioned I’d like to explore the topic of modern immigration, digital nomads, and open borders a bit more. This post marks my launch into the fray.
I first read about the concept of open borders more than a year ago in Rutger Bregman’s book Utopia for Realists. I don’t particularly agree with the title, as many of the ideas are still quite unrealistic, including the concept of open borders. However, it’s an interesting idea and I’d like to discuss it here.
The idea of open borders is the concept where, well, borders are open. There’s no immigration policy, there’s no passports, no border police. Any person can come and go as they please for any reason at all.
At first, this idea sounds like a veritable nightmare, but hear me out.
Most of the issues we think about when it comes to open borders can actually be solved by open borders. Terrorism, availability of jobs, homelessness, etc. For example, security threats like terrorism are largely caused by isolation, lack of education, and economic disparity. When you open borders, you solve those problems, likely eliminating the most causes of terrorism altogether.
The reasoning behind this has to do with water.
Water always finds its level. At least that’s what they say. You can pour a bunch of water in a pool at the top of the hill. And if it’s left unrestricted it will settle to the bottom. This is an oversimplification, but it’s a decent representation of how we can look at the flow of populations between two places. The main difference is that the flow will not be one-direction, because people are not water, and countries are not hills.
With open borders, people will actually flow in two directions, or rather many directions. Without the artificial restrictions of borders, people will be free to build a life wherever fits them best. They’ll be able to pick a place to live based on economic opportunities, climate, lifestyle, language, and much more.
And we already have modern examples, such as the European Union, Canada, and the United States of America. While the open border idea is most aptly represented by the EU, in which sovereign nations share a common border, the USA and Canada have a similar system of states or territories that also have open borders.
And this brings us to digital nomadism.
Digital nomads or location-independent workers, as most of you may know, are those who can work from anywhere in the world because their work is digital. Barring time-zone restrictions placed upon them by employers or customers, they are free to roam anywhere so long as the work gets done.
But of course, digital nomads have a problem. And that problem is their legal status to work in other countries. In most places, the right to work online, even for a foreign employer, is very much a gray area of immigration policy.
For example, the United Kingdom’s immigration website says that an American does not have the right to work in the country. However, there are many interpretations of this policy. Does the policy mean one isn’t allowed to be employed by a company while in the UK, which would be the traditional interpretation? Or does it mean that one is literally not allowed to open a work email while within the country’s borders?
Because, if you think about it even on a superfluous level, you realize that the United Kingdom only benefits from foreigners residing in their country without taking any local jobs. From a purely economic standpoint, they buy things and rent apartments, without being a burden on the local system (because of course they have no rights to healthcare, voting, etc.). Not to mention, it’s ridiculous in 2018 to think that a person with a laptop isn’t going to do at least some work.
And regardless of work-related bit of policy, unless you’re a naturalized citizen or resident, you’re not allowed to stay in another country beyond a specified amount of time. For Americans in the UK, it’s six months, but in Albania it’s up to one year.
Let’s move away from an economically dominant country like the United Kingdom, and into Bulgaria. There, the strategy is even more unsound. Bulgaria, where I spend most of my time (though not more than 90 days at a time per the visa regulations), is not considered a rich country. Many of the most valuable and educated citizens are leaving the country to seek economic opportunity elsewhere, creating what’s called brain drain. But there are economically prosperous and educated foreigners, like me, that would love to live here full time. Sadly, this is not possible.
So we see that the world’s countries’ immigration policies have not kept up with the times. Something new is needed.
And what I propose is a Digital Worker Visa.
The Digital Worker Visa a scheme where any location-independent worker can pay an annual fee to reside in any country. Especially in economically downtrodden countries, this fee would likely amount to many multiples of the amount of taxes paid by a citizen of said country. Add to that the added cash in the pockets of local businesses and the policy is a clear win.
Here are some additional details that could help such a tool be implemented:
- I propose a fee between €1,000 and €2,000 per annum. Though countries could set their own fees to compete with one another.
- There would be some sort of requirement each year to show how you earn your living, which must be from a business you own, freelancing, or a pile of savings. You’d essentially need to prove you weren’t working for a local company, which would mean you’re not taking the jobs of locals. This is somewhat like the German Freelancer Visa, though please let’s not make things as complicated as the Germans.
- A minimum bank account balance may be required. Enough to allow you to leave the country with relative ease and without stress should you lose your source of income. I’d imagine this amount would be a minimum of €2,000, but could be as high as €5,000.
The road ahead for such a program is long and bumpy, for sure. But I see this as an inevitably.
As soon as one country puts their foot in the water, others will follow suit. From then on out, if a country isn’t on the bandwagon, they’ll be losing out on the economic opportunity of playing host to a growing group of global citizens. Global citizens, by the way, who earn a lot of money, spend a lot of money, and love to tell others about where they’ve been.