It’s time for employers to start getting creative about skills retention in SA

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Digital nomad visas provide a workable solution for South African employers seeking to mitigate the accelerating skills drain.

Crumbling infrastructure. Loadshedding. Rampant crime and corruption. These are just some of the reasons why many highly skilled South African professionals are choosing to relocate to other countries – where the infrastructure is stable, the lights stay on, and their personal safety isn’t constantly under threat.

But while there is not much that employers can do to resolve South Africa’s socio-economic problems, Nicol Myburgh, Head: CRS Employment Services (CROS), an affiliate of CRS Technologies, says it is within their control to retain their key skill sets even if their employees do decide to move abroad.

“This can be done by simply enabling their employees to secure digital nomad visas in other countries.”

What is a digital nomad visa?

The concept of a digital nomad visa has become increasingly popular as the nature of work has evolved following the Covid-19 pandemic and, according to Myburgh, presents a golden opportunity to South African employers seeking to attract – and retain – top talent.

Generally, digital nomad visas are geared to allowing employees to work remotely for their existing employer in a foreign country and for an extended period. This enables them to travel and experience different cultures while maintaining their employment and income streams.

Most digital nomads are independent of the local business economy, and some countries explicitly prohibit them from engaging in local employment – which favours South African-based employers. Digital nomads do contribute to the local economy, however, by purchasing local products and services such as accommodation and consumer goods.

Of course, some may argue that it is not possible to sustain a decent living overseas while earning an income on an ever-weakening Rand, but Myburgh points out that there are many countries where the rand is stronger than the local currency.

“Additionally, the cost of living in some European countries compares favourably with that of South Africa and it is possible to get by, even on a Rand-based income.”

Myburgh notes that South Africans are taxed heavily to cover the cost of services such as public healthcare, schooling, transport and security. “But, owing to the deplorable state of the public services provided, many South Africans choose to pay for private medical aid, schools and security services. This is not necessary In European countries, where public service delivery is efficient and reliable, which makes living there more affordable.”

This being said, obtaining digital nomad visas for remote employees is a complex process, as the availability and requirements vary from country to country. It requires a deep understanding of immigration laws and regulations in the country(ies) of choice, as well as eligibility criteria and application processes. There is also compliance with local employment and tax regulations to consider.

Consequently, Myburgh advises that companies partner with a global employer of record (EOR), such as CROS, to understand the options and requirements for securing digital nomad visas for their employees in the desired countries.

“As your digital nomad EOR partner, we act as a liaison between employers and immigration authorities, communicating with the relevant government agencies on behalf of employers and employees, addressing any queries, submitting documents, and ensuring that the visa application progresses smoothly.

“Once the digital nomad visa is obtained, we continue to support employers and employees in maintaining compliance with local employment and tax regulations. This may include payroll administration, tax withholding, and ensuring adherence to any reporting requirements specified by the host country.

All of this relieves the administrative burden from the employer and allows them to focus on their core business activities.

Employees have proven themselves capable of working remotely, having honed their adaptability and capability during the pandemic, Myburgh concludes. “If employers want to retain their competitive advantage they need to start thinking creatively about retaining critical skills, and facilitating digital nomad visas for their employees through an EOR is an effective way to do so.”

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