By Federico N. Fernandez, Fundación Internacional Bases
The Argentine national government has just announced the creation of a special residency permit for remote workers called “Digital Nomads.”
According to the authorities, “this new residency, which was a joint work with the Ministry of Tourism, is temporary, for 6 months, and can be extended only once. This is a specific visa for people who, besides providing services for individuals or legal entities domiciled abroad, are foreign nationals of countries that do not require a tourist visa to enter Argentina.”
Digital nomads are people who do not depend on a fixed location and use technology to perform their work. Thus, they work remotely from wherever they want instead of being physically present in an office. Thanks to innovations such as content management software, cheap Internet access via WiFi, smartphones, or Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to contact clients and employers, this lifestyle has become possible.
Argentina has historically been a country open to immigration. The preamble of the 1853 Constitution stated that the country was inviting “all men of the world who wish to inhabit Argentine soil.”
With this measure of openness, Argentina’s federal government is sending a message of openness that is a breath of fresh air.
It is also encouraging to sense that the new nomadic visa is based on an understanding (at least partial) of the Argentine authorities of global labor market trends. It is essential for a country like Argentina, economically underdeveloped and geographically isolated, to appeal to promotional tools and incentives.
Along the same lines, the visa application process was announced to be entirely online. Those interested will not need to physically visit an Argentine Consulate or travel to the country in advance to apply for it.
For those who receive the visa, the government promises discounts on transportation and accommodations to encourage tourism during their stay. In addition to discounts in coworking spaces and benefits in the cultural and gastronomic offer.
According to the ranking of cities of the popular website Nomad List, Buenos Aires has the second-highest rating in LatAm and ranks 18th globally. The announcement of the new residency permit will only increase the positive buzz about the capital and the rest of Argentina.
Among the requirements to be eligible for the nomadic visa is to have the endorsement of the company for which the applicant works. This can become an insurmountable obstacle for many freelancers who, for example, earn their living through platforms such as Fiverr. Perhaps a requirement to demonstrate income for the last six months would be more conducive, as Estonia does in its nomadic visa.
In addition, to obtain the visa, applicants must pay the sum of US$200. Considering that the visa lasts only six months and can be renewed once, the annual cost of US$400 for a fully online process seems excessive.
It has been announced that the state-owned Aerolíneas Argentinas will offer discounts to holders of the nomadic visa. However, the airline market has been shrinking in recent years, and the national government has an aggressive and discriminatory policy toward cheap airlines such as Flybondi. Argentina’s geography is vast and rugged. Traveling by land can be a tortuous and dangerous experience. Instead of discounts from a quasi-monopolistic airline, all travelers should be able to access the largest and most competitive flight offer possible.
These infrastructure and service problems are also reflected in a critical area for digital nomadism: the Internet. The speed of Argentine WiFi and mobile networks is among the lowest globally.
Lastly, Argentina ranks 20th among the most insecure countries globally.
The Minister of the Interior, Eduardo de Pedro, emphasized that “this policy is another opportunity in the international labor market for foreign currency to arrive, for people who live the Argentine experience and return to their countries to be the main sellers of this beautiful country.”
At the visa presentation held at the Kirchner Cultural Center, the Minister of Tourism and Sports, Matías Lammens, double-downed on the concept of “foreign currency income.” He also emphasized the excellent opportunity for attracting tourists that the visa represents.
Thus, the whole project seems to be imbued with an extractive spirit. Come spend your money and then be our ambassadors for free does not seem to be the best invitation or the warmest welcome. In its greed, the government reverses how things should work. “Foreign currency gains” alone cannot be the guiding criterion. On the contrary, services and a nomad-friendly environment should be why nomads come to the country and spend their dollars or euros. A nomad visa policy should emphasize the advantages they will find in the country, not what they come to leave.
In any case, the greatest irony of the foreign exchange issue is that Argentina punishes those who bring them with capital controls that are as unfair as they are Kafkaesque.
Ultimately, viewing nomads exclusively as a source of income blinds the government to the real asset they possess: their human capital. That is why the announcements issued so far do not indicate steps that could lead to permanent residency. The nomad visa is more like a temporary pass to a theme park called Argentina, where one stays for a limited amount of time, spends some money, and moves on with one’s life.
Federico N. Fernández is Executive Director at Somos Innovación. Founder and President of Fundación Internacional Bases. and Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the International Conference “The Austrian School of Economics in the 21st Century,” .