New visa scheme for Europe’s wealthy digital nomads

Tourists take photos on an airbridge to a BTS Skytrain station in Bangkok on June 24, 2022. Thailand will introduce a new visa program to allow more foreign professionals to work from the kingdom. (photo by AFP)

Thailand will soon be welcoming applications for its 10-year “golden visa” program for wealthy foreigners, primarily those employed in tech sectors and digital nomads – or “Thai professional workers,” as the Thai government calls it.

The plan is expected to bring the equivalent of around €26 billion to the local economy over the next decade.

Narit Therdsteerasukdi, deputy secretary general of the Thailand Board of Investment (BoI), said DW that he estimates that at least 50% of applicants for the Long-Term Residence (LTR) visa program will come from Europe.

“We are confident that the LTR will generate significant interest among our target groups in Europe,” he said.

“Thailand is already a favorite destination for Europeans. … The responses we have received from the pre-launch campaign reflect strong interest. I anticipate that the LTR will become even more popular after launch,” he said. he adds.

EU countries are the second largest investor in Thailand, after Japan, with €19.8 billion of outward stock in Thailand at the end of 2020. Outward stock measures foreign direct investment (FDI) in companies located in foreign economies.

Who is eligible for the Thailand visa plan?

The new program, which will begin accepting applications on September 1, offers work visas to foreigners in four categories.

The basic requirement is at least US$1 million (€983,000) in assets and an annual income of $80,000, although the rules vary slightly from group to group. Candidates for the “Highly Skilled Professional” category will have to work in a sector deemed essential by the Thai government.

Individuals in the “Work-From-Thailand Professionals” category, intended primarily for employees in the technology sector, must be employed by a company with at least $150 million in three-year revenue

Those applying for the Wealthy Global Citizens category will need to invest at least $500,000 in the local economy, including bonds and property.

All LTR visa holders will obtain work permits and re-entry rights. An LTR visa will be valid for 10 years and can be renewed. Benefits will apply to the primary visa holder and up to four dependents, including spouse and children.

Companies benefiting from the scheme will be exempt from laws requiring them to hire four Thai nationals per foreign employee, according to reports.

In 2018, Thailand launched its “Smart Visa” program, which also offered incentives to wealthy foreign investors. Nearly 50% of approved applicants were from European countries, Narit said.

He said the “Highly Skilled Professionals” category under the new LTR visa “is pretty much an extension of the duration and privileges of the Smart Visa program.”

New visas are not a game-changer for businesses

The response from the European business community has been “generally positive, but most will wait and see”, said Guillaume Rebiere, executive director of the European Business and Commerce Association in Thailand. DW.

“Several businessmen already in Thailand have expressed interest in applying as it would ease administrative costs for them,” he said. “To date, we have not seen a significant uptick or interest in moving operations to Thailand in anticipation of the program,” he added.

Hans van den Born, executive director of the Netherlands-Thailand Chamber of Commerce, saw the same response. “The initial reactions were lukewarm,” he said. DW. “I guess it takes more time and a lot more communication to the target audience to get some traction.”

Analysts believe the Thai government is a little optimistic in its forecast. He expects there will be 1 million applicants to the LTR program by 2027. If each contributes $28,000 to the local economy, the entire program will be worth $27.6 billion. , according to BoI estimates.

A disappointing 1,200 visas have been issued under the Smart Visa program since its launch in February 2018, although the new LTR program offers far more incentives and promises to be less bureaucratic.

“I don’t think this will be a game-changer for future Dutch investments, as there are many other important factors before companies decide to invest in our part of the world,” van den Born said, adding that the program would likely help potential investors feel more welcome.

Thailand seeks recovery from pandemic

Like most of Southeast Asia, Thailand has suffered greatly from a lack of visitors during the pandemic.

Tourism accounted for around a fifth of GDP before the pandemic. Bangkok this week revised its growth figures for 2022 to between 2.7% and 3.2%, after an unexpected surge of 2.5% in the second quarter of the year.

Lynn Tastan, country head of global mobility services at KPMG, an international accounting firm, said DW that LTR visas have some shortcomings.

European retirees may prefer to apply for Thailand’s existing retirement visa, which has lower capital investment commitments than those provided under the “Wealthy Retiree” category of the LRT scheme.

“One of the main challenges is providing supporting documentation to meet LTR requirements,” Ms. Tastan said. “Easing the administrative burden for all parties under the LTR will be a key success factor,” she added.

But the program’s main draw is in the “Wealthy Global Citizen” and “Work-from-Thailand Professionals” categories, she said. Thailand currently has no visa or work permit programs specifically for foreigners who would enter these groups.

Importantly, the LTR program stipulates that foreigners in these two categories do not need a Thai sponsor to work or reside in Thailand, Ms Tastan said.

“After Covid, multinational companies are exploring and implementing hybrid or work-from-anywhere arrangements, where Thailand is an attractive destination, competing in the region for remote workers under the LTR program “, she added.

Other Southeast Asian countries are also considering similar visa programs.

Neighboring Cambodia recently launched its “My 2nd Home” program, which offers incentives to foreigners with $100,000 in investment capital. Indonesia is reportedly considering a five-year “digital nomad” visa to attract high-spending visitors.

Mary I. Bruner