Plumia Talks

Designing Estonia's Digital Nomad Visa with Karoli Hindriks

Jobbatical founder explores global mobility and creating a borderless world during the Plumia Speaker Series.
Designing Estonia's Digital Nomad Visa with Karoli Hindriks
In: Plumia Talks

How do you create a truly successful visa for digital nomads? By making their lives easier, says Estonian entrepreneur Karoli Hindriks.

The CEO and co-founder of relocation startup Jobbatical, Hindriks aims to reimagine immigration and make relocation seamless through technology. She joined our Speaker Series session on February 2nd to discuss the digital nomad visa creation process and how best to optimize it.

And she would know because she was the first to suggest Estonia’s new visa program.

In early 2018, Hindriks and her team sat down for the first set of discussions with the Estonian government. They presented their case to the Estonian Interior Ministry, E-residency team, and Police and Border Guard Board. The meeting also included another vital component: digital nomads.

“The policy was not created by somebody, like an official sitting in their office and trying to figure out what the rules should be.” Hindriks says. “We had this huge database of talent and many of them were digital nomads, so we went out and asked [them], ‘So, what are your biggest problems?’ And based on that, we put together a case for the government.”

Later during the visa creation process, the Jobbatical team went back to digital nomad communities to gather data on what they thought the visa should look like. By involving them right from the start, Hindriks ensured that Estonia's visa program kept the needs and concerns of its target audience front and center.

In the midst of a global talent shortage, countries have to race to attract skilled workers and encourage them to stay. Creating visa programs designed to solve immigration and travel issues for digital nomads could well weigh the balance in their favor.

The irony in all this, says Hindriks, is that countries like Portugal, the “Silicon Valley of Europe” and a favorite destination for millions of nomads, have fallen sadly behind the times. “You have great weather, time zone is good, food is good, the lifestyle is great. And then we get to look at how we get people in and there are things like government forms that have to be handwritten. Not only typed, they have to be handwritten.”

Banking on historical tourist numbers, the tendency is for countries to ignore glaring flaws, like outdated systems that do nothing for the people they’re trying to reach.

Many immigration offices still run on pen, ink, and typewriters while other government offices work on desktops. The real problem, though, runs much deeper, to the core of the system itself. Immigration processes, long controlled by Western civilizations, are heavily discriminatory against non-Western countries with weaker passports.

Today, they fail on multiple fronts. First, the majority of skilled workers come from countries like India and China, creating a huge block of talent unable to move freely. And second, these programs may have originally been tailored to their citizens, but most now can’t or won’t meet the needs of the modern workforce.

Admittedly, it’s difficult to build innovative, inclusive systems on a rotten foundation. That’s why user experience, according to Hindriks, is the key to creating successful digital nomad visa programs that rethink and streamline the immigration process.

This starts with looking at what’s working and what’s not working in countries that have created similar programs. Despite Estonia’s success, she still feels that they could have done more for nomads by updating their technology and the visa’s solution for taxing temporary residents.

“You can make something sound good, but if it’s not working for the users, then the users will talk, and they will not go to your country. So it’s really important to figure out the user experience.”

What the world really needs, Hindriks considers, is a “Ministry of User Experience” to guide countries through this process, and share best practices based on working results. Barring that, she suggests reaching out to more experienced teams for advice and direction.

“We’re in this place where we’re still using typewriters, but we know that we should start using desktop computers. So there’s already a shift happening.”

In the rush to accommodate new waves of location-independent workers, it’s tempting to prioritize speedy solutions over effective ones. However, by listening to the people they’re building visas for, countries can make the process of entering, staying, and working within them seamless and draw in vital talent.

The Plumia Talks is an ongoing series of public talks about creating a borderless world through technology. ​The sessions feature expert guests such as academics, authors, technologists, policymakers, founders, and activists. Register for our next event.

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✍️ About the Author

Leanna Lee is a British-American writer covering digital nomads and the future of work. She’s also co-host of Bettermental, a wellness podcast for business owners. As a content marketing writer, she’s developed strategic thought leadership content, blogs, and resources for startups and Fortune 500 companies around the world. Follow her @LeannaLost.

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