Attracting and retaining talent has become increasingly challenging for HR leaders across many industries. Alongside traditional retention strategies, flexible working policies – especially post-COVID-19 – are an important factor in terms of employee retention.
Many employers have either maintained or expanded on remote working policies that were in place during the pandemic. Now that agile working has been tried, tested, and become the accepted norm, an employer’s appeal can be drastically impacted if they re-impose daily attendance in their offices.
Companies are making a big PR push to showcase their post-pandemic workplace policies and newfound flexibility. Many tech companies have successfully, it seems, implemented ‘work from anywhere‘ policies to retain talent and increase job satisfaction.
Giving employees the freedom to choose from where they work appears to yield positive results in not just retention, but also expansion of the talent pool, but is it too good to be true? And most importantly, is it even possible in every country?
State of play in Benelux and France
Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg) countries and France have not embraced the digital nomad concept yet, but alternative immigration routes that could enable some level of remote working do exist.
For instance, France offers the long stay visitor visa. This can be issued for up to one year and, although it is not a remote work visa, the holder may, under certain circumstances, conduct work for an employer or client established outside France.
Luxembourg has a generous business visitor policy, allowing foreign nationals to conduct work for up to three months without any work authorization. If the stay in Luxembourg exceeds three months, individuals can apply for a residence permit for private reasons. In this case they will have to prove they are able to live off their own resources.
In Belgium, individuals can file requests with the authorities justifying their ties to Belgium. In the Flemish region remote working is explicitly foreseen in the legislation, but there is a need to set up a payroll and pay Belgian social security contributions. At the moment, there are no similar provisions for the Brussels and Wallonia regions.
Dutch legislation seems to be the strictest, with most immigration applications requiring a Dutch-based sponsor. However, remote workers could envisage obtaining a self-employed residence permit which could enable them to conduct their activities.
Eligibility criteria for specific nationalities, such as US citizens, are less restrictive in the Netherlands. This route can thus serve as an alternative in lack of a proper digital nomad visa.
These countries are on the opposite spectrum of the digital nomad trend compared to several European Union (EU) countries who appear to embrace the digital nomad schemes. This is therefore a trend that other countries are likely to follow.
While there are some preliminary discussions with EU legislators about the possibility of a European scheme or a remote working feature, this does not appear to be on the immediate agenda for EU policy makers.
Remote work/Digital Nomad visas
For those countries that have embraced the digital nomad concept,
in order to ensure employees working remotely remain compliant, companies must determine whether they have the right to work from the host country.
The easiest case scenario, where immigration considerations are minimal, is when an employee has citizenship, or another status, which allows them to work from their host country. In the EU for instance, compliance becomes more complex for non-EU/European Economic Area(EEA)/Swiss citizens who do not benefit from the freedom of movement within the EU and work is only permitted under specific and more limited circumstances.
When remote work becomes structural, an adequate immigration solution is required. In this case, many are turning to the digital nomad schemes in development.
Alongside Estonia, a pioneer in this field, several European countries are creating schemes that allow foreign citizens to work for an employer/client not based in their territory, for example Malta, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Spain (in progress) and Italy (in progress).
These schemes are in early stages of development and questions surrounding eligibility, processing times and residence requirements remain unanswered. Regardless, they are proving to be an appealing avenue for applicants.
Is immigration the only compliance struggle for remote work?
If the immigration landscape was not complex enough, remote work poses additional compliance challenges. Companies and employees alike must consider varying employment laws, insurance, social security and tax implications.
Even when businesses are ready to allow their employees to work remotely from countries where they have no citizenship or residence, the legal frameworks can be difficult to navigate. Working from anywhere, and for as long as an employee wishes, may not be easy to accomplish in Europe.
But whether temporary or structural in nature, remote work solutions exist and will differ for each employer/employee. Before implementing HR policies, businesses should therefore seek legal advice on compliant remote working.
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