Individuals seeking to take advantage of the proposed 12-month Barbados Welcome Stamp will have to be earning a minimum of US$50,000 annually.
This is among the criteria outlined by Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds on Wednesday morning as he gave small hoteliers who have been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic the assurance there was light at the end of the tunnel.
The 12-month Barbados Welcome Stamp programme, which has been getting tremendous international exposure since it was mooted at the start of July, would allow visitors the opportunity to work remotely from Bridgetown for up to a year at a time.
“We set the bar at about US$50,000 annual income, and that is a minimum. So the individual who expresses an interest in this 12-month programme demonstrates first of all, that they earn US$50,000 a year, they have a valid passport obviously, and they must present with an arrangement for health insurance. They can either walk with their own health insurance or, because we do not want them to be a burden on the state, they can source health insurance here,” said Symmonds, as he shared some of the criteria for the new work visa.
“In addition to that there will be a background character check and assessment on the individuals who present themselves as potential beneficiaries under this programme so we do not get the scum of the earth, but decent and upstanding types of people to come here,” he said.
With an application to be made by the interested individual for the programme, Symmonds said Government was ensuring it had systems in place to give a decision on applications within a week of their submission.
“It is requiring a bit of heavy lifting but I genuinely believe that it helps us to sell it better in the context of Barbados presenting itself as being a far more efficient and cutting-edge type of destination,” said Symmonds.
Though making it clear that it was not set in stone, he said Government was targeting primarily two groups – young professionals and pre-retirement individuals.
“There are two groups really and this is not exclusive – age 22 to 39, and the second group age 40 to 55. Why? Because at that age – 22 to 39 – you tend to be single, so that gives you the flexibility to move more easily, you tend to also, if you are in the professional category, to be on an upward trajectory,” explained Symmonds.
He said the country boasted of having a high repeat visitor rate, which already consisted of people over the age of 55.
“It means that we have, realistically, to build new loyalties as they travel less especially in a post COVID-19 environment where health considerations become greater . . . It is foolhardy, I think, to continue to rely on that aging, though loyal, population exclusively. Therefore it gives us an opportunity to make friends and build relationships with a lot of young people,” he said.
The Tourism Minister was addressing the 20th annual general meeting of the Intimate Hotels of Barbados (IHB), which was held via Zoom.
He said that a lot of preliminary work has already been done in preparing the policy framework for the new visa initiative, and last week when it was presented to Cabinet it was “approved in principle”.
Acknowledging that a large chunk of the business for the IHB came from regional travel, Symmonds said the 12-month Welcome Stamp was an opportunity for the small hoteliers to fill that void as new airlines move in to fill the void created by the liquidation of LIAT.
“So while I recognize that the regional traffic has taken a hit, even beyond what happened with COVID-19, I want you to be able to go away with the certain knowledge that there is a ray of sunshine on the horizon,” said Symmonds.
There are currently just over 45 members of the IHB, consisting of indigenously-owned hotels, apartment hotels, guesthouses and villas.
Insisting that the special visa programme was Barbados’ way of “stepping outside of tradition”, Symmonds said the country was faced with a situation of either remaining closed and do nothing “and die a different type of death”, or re-open and try to manage the situation creatively.
He said his hope was that the initiative would help the country to recover some of the revenue loss experienced since the tourism industry came to a standstill at the end of March with the grounding of flights.
Symmonds said he believed the proposed criteria for qualifying under the 12-month Welcome Stamp was set at a “reasonable level”.
“We wanted to be able to draw as wide a degree of traffic as possible on this programme in order to adequately compensate for the downfall we will have in revenue from our normal tourism operations. It is not practical or credible to expect within the next year Barbados is going to be post COVID what it was prior to COVID. We are going to take a little bit longer than that,” he acknowledged.
He explained that the country had several unique attributes that should make the initiative attractive, including safety, high mobile penetration, good internet connectivity, good health care system and a high standard of education and public service.
“We felt that those things collectively gave us an opportunity to go into the market with this particular initiative to give us an opportunity then to say ‘this is how we will sell Barbados’, and for all of you in the hotel sector it gives you an opportunity to fill some rooms,” said Symmonds, adding that it would require a little more nimbleness on the part of hoteliers.
When she initially announced the plan, Prime Minister Mia Mottley indicated that the idea was to attract business travellers, especially from the United States, Europe and Latin America “to come and do their jobs digitally for a couple of months and then go back home…”
Outgoing Chairman of the IHB Soni Kessuram said that group welcomed the new initiative and she believed they stood to benefit.
“I really do believe that we can benefit from the launch of the 12-month Barbados Welcome Stamp initiative. I do believe that we can be well-positioned to attract these long-stay tourists especially those properties that have kitchenettes,” said Kessuram.