Freeman Cebu Business

‘Digital nomads’ bill to boost Philippines tourism

Ehda M. Dagooc - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines — The Philippines is joining other destinations in the world in attracting “digital nomads” following the passage of the ‘Digital Nomad Act’ (House Bill No. 8165) authored by Surigao del Norte Rep. Francisco Jose Matugas II.

In an interview with Matugas, he said that the Philippines need to provide a conducive environment to these emerging traveling workers or the “digital nomads,” as this group will not only push up the number of foreign arrivals in the country but also boost the tourism receipts as these are long staying guests and high spenders.

Matugas pushed for the Digital Nomad Act upon observing that in his congressional district in Surigao del Norte, particularly Siargao, the island is now considered as second home for remote workers, not only for Filipinos coming from other urban cities but largely foreign nationals.

“We would like to attract these kinds of tourists [digital nomads]. In fact, they have started to come in during the pandemic. Some of them chose to be locked down on the island,” Matugas said.

With this Bill, the Philippines joins the growing list of countries that issue “digital nomad visas” to attract more travelers and remote work is already implemented by companies around the world.

However, Matugas admitted that while the Philippines is much more attractive for remote workers, it has to fix its issue with internet speed, especially on the islands like Siargao.

The Congressman called the attention of telecommunication companies to provide good internet infrastructure on islands like Siargao. He mentioned the effort of Smart Communications in boosting the quality of internet connection on the island.

He acknowledges the importance of internet speed in order for the law to work, saying “Although we have the law, if the signal is bad it would not work.”

The Digital Nomad Act stipulates that the Bureau of Immigration shall be authorized to issue digital nomad visas, following the success stories of 54 countries in the world that have implemented similar set-ups, which developed during the two-year pandemic.

Other countries, which are ahead of this curb in attracting digital nomads have offered specialized visa, which gives a certified digital nomad visitor the right to stay in a country and work remotely for a foreign-based employer or business.

“An alien who is employed in a country other than the Republic of the Philippines, may, upon making an application to the BI, be granted a digital nomad visa to work in the Philippines for a period of 12 months, renewable for another 12 months,” the Bill stated.

But recipients must be at least 18 years old, can show proof of sufficient income generated outside the Philippines, and has valid health insurance covering the period for which the visa is granted. He or she must have no criminal record in their home country or should not be considered a threat to the Philippines.

Digital nomad visa holders will not be listed as a resident of the Philippines for taxation purposes, and the income they receive from their employer abroad would not be considered income from Philippine sources, the bill reads, stressing: “An alien who has been granted a digital nomad visa shall not be employed in the Philippines.”

The BI may revoke the digital nomad visa for any violation of the terms and conditions for its issuance, or if the holder no longer qualifies. The BI is also tasked to keep a registry of persons issued digital nomad visas.

Digital Nomad Summit

To recognize the existence of this niche tourism market, the Department of Tourism (DOT-Caraga), in partnership with local government units (LGUs) in Siargao Island and the Department of Information Technology and Communication (DICT) is finalizing plans to hold the first-ever “Digital Nomad Summit” in October 2023.

DOT-Caraga regional director Ivonnie Beltran-Dumadag in an interview said that the summit hopes to identify and quantify the number of digital nomads in Siargao Island so that they can be properly recognized and given support.

According to Dumadag, the Summit is tentatively slated on October 6-7 2023, in time for Siagao’s Surfing months.

The first Digital Nomad Summit also aims to promote “Work & Surf” tourism. — (FREEMAN)

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