SPOKANE, Washington — The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every country’s economy. However, in Barbados, a country with an economy dependent on tourism, the lack of travel has caused noticeable effects. However, government officials have found a way to mitigate the effects of the economic fallout by creating the Welcome Stamp visa.
COVID-19 in Barbados
Barbados was quick to act with COVID-19. Immediately, Barbados enacted strict social distancing, mask-wearing policies and occupancy limit policies. Guests from high-risk countries are required to test negative at the airport and quarantine upon arrival. Because of these measures, Barbados has only seen 2,457 confirmed cases as of February 17, 2021.
The economic situation has suffered even with successful disease prevention measures. The projected GDP growth for Barbados in 2020 was -5.8%. This is problematic for multiple reasons. The Caribbean, including Barbados, is one of the most indebted regions in the world, according to Regis Chapman, the head of the office of the United Nations World Food Programme’s Office for Emergency Preparedness and Response in the Caribbean. The lack of tourism is only causing interest to hike.
The Welcome Stamp Visa
What is Barbados doing about this impending financial storm? Immigration officials created the Welcome Stamp visa, which allows non-nationals working remotely to do so in Barbados. The idea behind it is that while people do their remote work, they spend rent, grocery and entertainment money in Barbados. This stimulates the economy. The visa fees are $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a family. Each visa lasts for 12 months, and applications are processed within a week.
Newcomers must make no less than $50,000 a year to apply and must have their own insurance to access Barbados’s robust healthcare system. The Welcome Stamp visa does not allow non-nationals to seek employment in Barbados; foreigners must have remote employment secured. This visa has been popular with Americans and Canadians. In fact, there were hundreds of applicants in the first few weeks of its launch. Those who were denied a visa were typically those looking for employment in Barbados.
Making Up for Lost Tourism
The aim of the Welcome Stamp visa is to generate revenue that was lost due to the lack of tourism and canceled events. The country had to cancel two major events because of COVID-19, the 2020 Crop Over Festival and the National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA). Though this decision is effective in controlling the virus, it has meant job and revenue loss.
Chapman says that food prices have gone up since the wave of job losses. Surveys done by the World Food Programme report that 62% of respondents experienced job loss due to the pandemic, and 73% have noticed an increase in the cost of food items. This causes people to buy cheaper and less desirable products and decreases the amount of food that they eat.
Though many events are canceled, and tourist activities are limited because of COVID-19 guidelines, the Welcome Stamp visa is still expected to help mitigate job and revenue loss. By buying groceries and paying rent, visa holders are helping to stimulate the economy. Besides that, there is the hope that in their free time, foreigners will rent chairs on the beach, socially distance at one of Barbados’s world-famous rum distilleries and eat at restaurants that are hurting for tourist business.
COVID-19 has kept tourists away from Barbados. This has been a loss for the country in terms of revenue and livelihoods. But, just as the country acted swiftly to mitigate the risks of the pandemic, the government of Barbados found a way to make up for financial losses. The Welcome Stamp visa is an inventive program that has the potential to make up for tourism losses and restore livelihoods to the island’s residents. As Chapman says: “You’re already working remotely, why not do it in Barbados?”
– Maddey Bussmann