Georgia Looks to Remote Workers to Lift its Tourism Sector
Georgian authorities’ response to the global pandemic has been recognized by the international community. Georgia has succeeded in maintaining a low infection rate in part because of rigid travel restrictions, including restrictions on inter-country mobility. While this means that Georgia is one of the countries on a very short list whose citizens are able to enter the European Union, the continued border closures have had a significant impact on the local tourism industry, a core component of the domestic economy. In 2017, tourism accounted for 9.3% of Georgia’s GDP with 7.8% of the working population working in this industry.
In an effort to support the tourism sector without compromising the existing border policy, the country has launched a new program – Remotely from Georgia – that allows remote workers into the country as long as they meet a series of requirements.
According to Georgia’s Economy Minister, Natia Turnava, “Georgia has the image of an epidemiologically safe country in the world and we want to use this opportunity. We are talking about opening the border in a way to protect the health of our citizens, but, on the other hand, to bring to Georgia citizens of all countries who can work remotely.”
Interested workers must submit an initial application, indicating one of three types of employment: freelancer, full-time employee, or entrepreneur. After the approval of the initial application, candidates must provide documentation proving the foreigner’s ability to earn a monthly income of at least 2000 USD. Following this phase, the applicant will be granted permission to enter Georgia, but will then need to complete a mandatory 12-day quarantine, at the applicant’s own expense. Finally, the foreign worker will be subject to a PCR COVID test and will then be allowed to stay in Georgia should they test negative.
The announcement of the program has sparked mixed reactions, and there are questions surrounding the potential success of the initiative. Some have criticized the high monthly income requirement, which excludes many remote workers from the South Caucasus and Eastern Europe. Additionally, the program requires a minimum stay of 180 days, which may be impractical for some digital nomads. The increasingly popular digital nomad lifestyle prioritize flexibility over permanence and the key feature of remote work is to not be confined to one specific locale.
On the other hand, some have emphasized the unique benefits that freelancers and remote workers can bring to Georgia. Local freelancers have emphasized the positive role they can play in increasing consumer spending, while also participating meaningfully in community life and institutions. They claim that unlike tourists, they provide more sustained investment in their adoptive communities.
Despite the criticisms about the time commitment and the relatively high-income requirements for eligibility, since the program’s announcement, digital nomads, freelancers, and remote workers appear to be interested. As of August 5, 2020, only a few weeks after the initial announcement in mid-July, the Georgian government had received approximately 2,700 applications, with many applications coming from European countries.
Due to the newness of the program, it’s unclear how many remote workers will relocate to Georgia, or what their financial contribution to the economy could be. According to the Georgian National Tourism Association, Georgia had 7.7 million trips made by international visitors in 2019, up 7.3% from 7.2 million in 2018. As a result of the global pandemic, the Georgian National Tourism Association has recorded 1.3 million trips made by international visitors in the first 8 months of 2020, a 75% decrease. While the Georgian government has recently launched the program and the results are unclear, digital nomads may be able to contribute to Georgia’s economy, potentially mitigating some of the damage inflicted on the tourism industry by the coronavirus pandemic.