The work of the future is here to stay, working remotely is now part of many people's lives. Many employers are not only adopting national hybrid working models, but also policies that allow their employees to temporarily work from abroad. This last topic is especially interesting, because it raises an important question even before the employee enters the destination country.
"How should someone who works temporarily from abroad for private reasons be qualified for VISA purposes?"
Since this is a relatively new topic, regulators never explicitly addressed the temporary remote workers in their VISA rules and regulations. As a result, there is no specific visa or applicable framework for this type of persona. Generally, VISA rules and regulations provide only three possible “titles” for non-nationals to be in a country: tourism, local employment or business travel. The question is whether these titles provide a suitable qualification for the temporary remote worker, and if so, which one. This question is relevant, because the administrative requirements for entering and being allowed to work in the country can strongly differ per title.
Hereinafter, we will separately discuss the three different titles and specifically address whether they are suited to cover temporary remote workers.
Most countries specifically exclude any type of paid activity in order to qualify as a tourist. Therefore, it is unlikely that temporary remote workers can enter and work from those countries without further ado. Interestingly enough, this would imply that it is incompliant when employees, during their vacation, check their business email on their smartphone. At the same time, for as far as we know no-one ever made a problem out of this before; neither employers and employees, nor governments and authorities. As a result, one could argue that even tourists are practically entitled to perform some work activities.
Some countries specifically allow tourists to work remotely for their employer in the home country for a limited number of days. Schengen Area countries are examples; foreigners who wish to do some remote work whilst on holiday in Europe can do so with a tourist visa, or visa-free if from an exempt country1. Also, pursuant to the American Customs and Border Protection information centre, it is possible to work remotely for a foreign company with the Visa Waiver Program for a certain amount of time within the US.
However, it seems rather opportunistic to claim that this pragmatic exception applies to temporary remote workers everywhere and always, as their working activities generally are not clearly very limited and highly incidental.
2. Local employment
On the other side of the spectrum, there is local employment. If non-nationals want to (permanently) work somewhere, they generally require a proper work permit. An example is the EU Blue Card. Only with this card, non-EU nationals are allowed to accept a job in the specific EU country that issued the card. Local employment in this regard means a local employment, for a local employer. The employee in this set up becomes a resident of the specific country. In the words of the European Commission, the regulations around EU Blue Cards relate to the conditions of entry and residence of highly qualified non-EU nationals in EU countries.
The key drivers for regulating this area is that countries want to protect both their own citizens and the immigrants.Their own citizens to ensure that their jobs cannot be stolen very easily by immigrants. And these immigrants ensure that they are not brought to a country to work against conditions that are much worse than those of the local population (social dumping). Looking at these two key drivers, it is clear that the rules were not meant to “protect” destination countries from temporary remote workers at all.
It goes without saying that temporary remote workers are not a part of a social dumping scheme. That does not mean that it is theoretically possible that the temporary worker ́s remuneration package would lie below the minimum standards of the destination country. Given that this is really unlikely, the number of cases where this will be the case will be extremely low. These exceptions do not change the fact that temporary work from abroad has nothing to do with social dumping.
Equally clear is the fact that temporary remote workers do not compete for jobs with the local workforce of the destination country. Temporary remote workers already have a job! They continue to work for the employer in their home country, and all of their remuneration continues to be paid and borne by that home country employer. They neither intend to become residents in the destination country, nor do they perform any activities for local businesses.
Whereas qualifying temporary remote workers as tourists is “too easy”, it seems at the same time unreasonable to qualify them as local employees. This would quite often require a local sponsor. In the case of a temporary remote worker, this sponsor is not available unless the home country employer would be willing to register in the destination country too. This is clearly not something that employers, who merely allowed their employees to work abroad for a while, will accept. Additionally, it should be noted that the process for obtaining a VISA for local employment is a lengthy, sometimes also costly, process. This is another reason why, if the conclusion would be that temporary remote workers would officially have to obtain a VISA for local employment, this in practice is likely to only lead to more remote workers going somewhere secretly as "tourists".
3. Business Travel
The third and last title for non-nationals to be in a country is business travel. According to the American bureau of consular affairs2, business travel is defined as trips during which the employee temporarily engage in business activities such as:
· negotiation of contracts;
· consultation with business associates;
· participation in scientific, educational, professional or business conventions, conferences or seminars;
· other legitimate activities of a commercial or professional nature.
Similar activities have been considered to lead for the application of a business visa by the Schengen Area countries3:
· meeting or training at a business unit established in the destination country;
· purchase and sale of products, business transactions and tenders;
· attending an exhibition, conference or seminar.
Indeed, as a business traveller, you can do meetings, negotiate contracts and visit clients in the destination country. However, the question is whether "remote work" can be qualified as business travel or not. Of course, the rules are old and were not defined when remote work was at all relevant. Some important hubs for temporary remote workers, such as Spain or Portugal, have overtly stated that they do not have a specific framework for this type of travellers. As such, “performing regular work for your home country employer” is not specifically covered as a work activity under the header business travel.
Nowadays, temporary remote work obviously is relevant, and it is our opinion that business travel comes closer to temporary remote work than tourism (point 1) or local employment (point 2) do. After all, what do business travellers do in between having meetings and client visits? Exactly, regular work activities such as sending emails - which is basically exactly what temporary remote workers do. Employers and authorities never made a problem out of this, so we consider it unlikely that this would change now.
Some governments already unofficially confirmed that remote workers indeed qualify as business travellers for VISA/Immigration purposes. Moreover, we are unaware of any government taking a position against this approach. However, this does not mean that this may not eventually happen. Until this is cleared, the "business traveller" option is the best option available. It is neither “too easy”, nor is it unreasonably strict. It is a workable theory if employees would like to temporarily work from outside of the EU, in these cases where they do not have the nationality of the destination country.