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Tired of lockdown? Barbados tempts remote workers with 12-month visas

“There's nothing like waking up and seeing the sunshine," the Barbados prime minister told NBC News.

For the millions of workers stuck at home through the coronavirus pandemic, the idea of moving to a Caribbean island for a year sounds like a dream.

But now it could become a reality.

Barbados is planning to introduce a 12-month visa that would allow remote workers to swap cramped city apartments for the island’s white sandy beaches, blue sea and year-round sunshine.

The scheme, known as the “Barbados Welcome Stamp”, is due to be launched in August and will be open to anyone earning more than $50,000. The scheme is designed to provide a much-needed boost to the island’s tourist-dependent economy, while capitalizing on the shift in work patterns driven by the coronavirus pandemic.

Mia Mottley, Barbados' prime minister, speaks during the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York in 2019.Kevin Hagen / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

“There's nothing like waking up and seeing the sunshine. And there's nothing like being able to work and go for a sea bath and come back and put in the second shift of work,” Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley told NBC News. “You can do all of that, while still being able to do the things that you're doing in London or New York,” she added.

Tourism makes up 40 percent of Barbados' economy, employing 26,000 people according to the Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association. Mottley said unemployment had “virtually trebeled” during the pandemic, leading to a 31 percent decline in government revenue.

“Obviously, short-term travel came to a halt in March for us. We will continue to see the decline,” she said.

“We felt that perhaps the better thing for us to do is to open up our travel opportunities for people who wanted to stay longer, and wanted to be able to work from elsewhere, particularly with the technological platforms that afford that opportunity to us now.”

The Barbados Welcome Stamp would give visitors the right to work in the country for up to a year, regardless of where their employer is based. It’s expected to cost $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a family visa — irrespective of how many children that family has. Participants in the scheme will be required to take out health insurance.

Barbados, with a population of 286,000, has confirmed just 104 COVID-19 cases and seven deaths, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The island partly reopened its international borders July 12, with flights resuming from Canada. Flights from the United States will resume July 25, with four weekly flights from the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and flights from Miami restarting in August.

The Barbados government has already put measures in place to try to limit the infection risk posed by the return of overseas visitors. Travelers are expected to have the results of a negative COVID-19 test, taken no more than 72 hours before arrival.

If not, a test will be taken upon landing and the traveler will be quarantined for two days while awaiting the results. Visitors are also required to undergo a temperature check on arrival and must wear a mask at the airport.

Bottom Bay, one of the most beautiful beaches on the Caribbean island of Barbados.Fyletto / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Mottley said the relatively low infection rate in Barbados, in contrast to surging case numbers in the U.S. and widespread fears of a second wave, could help to persuade people to take up the Welcome Stamp offer.

“Given that it is anticipated there will be a second wave, particularly in Europe come November or December, we believe that we can offer people who have the capacity to work from home a different perspective, particularly given the mental health issues associated with this physical pandemic.”

Santiago Ibarguen, 39, a disaster preparedness consultant, moved to Barbados from Washington, D.C., with his wife and their two children.

He said the benefits of living and working in Barbados are clear: “We have this saying here that we live like a vacation because literally every Friday, once you get off work, it's your vacation until Monday.”