subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now

With the draft second amendment of the immigration regulations recently gazetted, and subsequently withdrawn due to a “procedural error”, it appears that it is only a matter of time before international workers can live and work in SA while being employed overseas. Apart from the obvious effect on travel and tourism, remote workers — so-called digital nomads — can benefit the country far more than expected.

From my involvement in Innovation City, a co-working hub in Cape Town looking to expand the entrepreneurial ecosystem, I have met several overseas visitors hoping for an above-board way to involve themselves in SA. As entrepreneurs themselves, often in the form of founders or investors in high-growth start-ups, they are always on the lookout for opportunities.

These entrepreneurs want to live here and invest, but with the current regulations find it difficult to do so. It is for this reason I am thrilled about the remote working visa, as it will open the gates for possible investors and collaboration with those involved in other ecosystems, such as the important technology hub of Dublin.

Creating a fertile environment

Looking at the local start-up space it is clear that SA has incredibly intelligent entrepreneurs with excellent business ideas. If we are going to co-operate in a globalised world a remote working visa will go a long way in securing our place at the table. In fact, I see this visa as the “gateway drug” to much needed international capital.

Organisations such as SiMODiSA, which implemented the industry-led StartUp Act initiative in 2014 and lobbies government to overturn red tape affecting high-growth entrepreneurs, believes the same. They note foreign entrepreneurs look set to not only invest capital, but also create much-needed jobs and contribute tax flow to the fiscus through further means.

As Startup Act Movement of SA vice-chair Matsi Modise states, “by implementing the remote working visa we’re not just looking at a policy change, we are envisioning a paradigm shift in how SA engages with the global economy. With this visa we’re inviting professionals and enterprising minds to contribute to the growth and prosperity of our nation. It's a signal to investors and entrepreneurs alike that SA is open to business on a truly global scale.”

However, those who come to work locally must find a fertile environment in which to collaborate. True, for some the local coffee shop with free wi-fi will be a capable workspace. But I believe if we genuinely want to benefit from a remote working visa entrepreneurial ecosystems created by attractive co-workspaces are the soil needed for seeds to sprout in.

Hubs such as Innovation City provide a co-working space that can connect foreigners with some of the most innovative local businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs who work there. Ask any successful business owner and they will tell you networking is key, so providing a connective ecosystem for foreign workers to slot into can unlock all types of business opportunities. Filled with the right people, co-working spaces become more than the sum of its parts, creating the right environment for business outcomes that this collective synergy enables.

For SA to truly benefit from the remote working visa more of these types of hubs must be established. And for this to happen closer collaboration between hubs and government is a must. Through my own dealings I know there are members of government that want to get things done. Trust relationships with these officials are important because there will be times when this can help immensely, to the benefit of both parties.

I would also like to see closer collaboration between the already established hubs to learn from each other and offer support. Last but not least, digital nomads must not be equated to illegal immigrants. Digital nomads will be in the country for short periods, employed overseas, with their completed paperwork as required by the government. 

Further work needed

The remote working visa is not the only new visa coming, with a critical skills visa also in the pipeline. Skill shortages, especially in tech, is a global problem due to the huge international demand created by tech-based economies. However, for our SMEs the problem gets exacerbated due to corporates further snapping up the remaining local talent. SA simply does not have the training capacity to fill these gaps, so it would be opportune to find a way to also incorporate critical skills workers in specialised training programmes or courses to part with their knowledge.

The new visa regulations are not a panacea to our local economic problems. In line with SiMODiSA and its efforts through the Startup Act, we must make it easier to do business locally. There is simply too much red tape placing a burden on new start-ups as well as on established ones looking to expand. One such problem is the unfair capital gains tax levied when start-ups have to move their intellectual property overseas - often a requirement when large venture capital firms invest.

We know true job creation can only be addressed by SMEs. It is in SA’s best interest to create enabling environments for those coming to stay in the country on a remote working visa to connect with the top local start-ups, SMEs and entrepreneurs. Doing so can, and I am sure will, open the gates to much needed foreign investment and new employment opportunities.

• Kammies is cofounder of Innovation City and a supporter of the SA Startup Act Movement.

subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now

Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.