Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the intersection of telecommuting and working abroad.
Telecommuting has become the norm. For many people, working from home actually makes them more productive. Some people claim they’re less distracted at home, while others espouse the freedom to be home and take time to care for their children.
At the same time, the world continues to become flatter, as Thomas Friedman drilled into our heads in his 2007 book The World Is Flat, now in version 3.0. An Internet connection is all it takes to be connected to anyone, anywhere. We’re right on the cusp of the world embracing a global culture.
Telecommuting, Gangnam Style
Last year I taught English as a Second Language in a private school in Seoul, South Korea. In my free time, I wrote articles for the Meta Q, which is based in Denver, Colorado.
I was training the next generation of Korean students to speak English, an invaluable tool that helps them when they left their homes for colleges abroad, and began writing articles about the Internet and technology.
The secret world of visas
To teach English in Seoul I needed an E-2 visa.
While the process of gaining an E-2 visa (a visa that’s only for teaching, and only for a specific institution) in Seoul isn’t terribly difficult, it does require a lot of paperwork. And finding a job that will sponsor the visa and fill out said paperwork takes effort.
Say I just wanted to live in Seoul? Well, I'd need a visa. Without a job to sponsor a visa, I could only stay in Korea for six months at a time. But if I wanted to get a visa to do anything other than teach in Korea – that would be a lot more difficult. Not impossible, but damn near close to it.
“Not impossible but damn near close to it,” is also a great way to describe the EU visa process for non-EU citizens.
The European Union has a program that allows citizens of the EU to live and work almost anywhere else in the EU – which is great – but is far more complicated if you come from a country not part of the EU.
You need to prove that you’re better qualified for a particular job than any other EU citizen. I understand this can be easy to prove if a company wants to cough up all the money it takes to sponsor your visa. But generally, this practice leaves many jobs unattainable for immigrants such as myself.
Finding a foreign company that will sponsor your visa isn’t easy. There’s a lot of paperwork and liability and numerous fees involved that many smaller businesses are simply unable to pay. So we have to think about the ways we can help countries achieve their goals more easily. And that all rests with a revamping of the visa process.
Gone are the days when people could just pack up and go to a new place, and find a job later. The limited movement from country to country forces people to find jobs before they leave, jobs that are willing to jump through bureaucratic hoops. But mainly it just forces people to stay where they are.
The future of immigrating and telecommuting
That’s where we are right now. Different countries with different visa processes leaving much to be desired and millions of people desperate to take jobs in different countries for various reasons. For me, the reason is adventure. For others, the economy in their country is in the toilet. Whatever the reason, the whole process needs to be revamped.
If Thomas Friedman is right – and he has assured us he is – then jobs that used to only be found in the US (and the UK and Canada) can now be found just about everywhere. There are tech start-ups and incubators in countries like Ireland, Germany, Kenya and Thailand, where they simply weren’t before.
New fields are opening in new countries all over the world. And countries who hope to create their own Silicon Valley can’t because they don’t have the work force to achieve it. Solving these problems require education and immigration, two things which are not mutually exclusive.
We need to move from place to place, freely
While I’m sure there will be a lot of people/governments who will complain that opening the visa process up could but undue strain on their economies, I counter that it will actually strengthen the world economy.
The US is no longer a lone island, economically speaking. We’re inexorably tethered to economies all over the world. Just as we all feel the pinch when countries like Greece circle the economic drain, when countries like India and China start to boom, the US, along with just about every other economy around the world benefits.
We’re all in this together, damnit.
Some will claim that opening things up will make immigration a nightmare. To that I respond that opening up the visa process will force countries to reorganize their desperately out-of-date governments anyway. Make it easier for people to live where they want to live, and to work where they want to work.
If the US is no longer the land of opportunity for everyone, then why can’t we create new opportunities elsewhere? This could be the kind of catalyst that could drive explosive growth in places like Jamaica or Uganda or even Mongolia. Perhaps all it takes to fix the world economy is recognition that we’re all connected. We need to remember that before we all go down the tubes.
That, or people will continue to work illegally, small businesses will fail to grow and big companies will keep looking for that next cheap place to outsource work.
I dream of a future where I can work from home -- anywhere I decide that my home should be.