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Italy is launching a digital nomad visa

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

If you have always dreamed of picking up and moving to Italy to live la dolce vita, it's about to get easier. The country is hoping to attract more than tourists, whose numbers have declined during the pandemic, and has come up with a scheme to appeal to people who don't have to work from the office anymore. Adam Raney reports from Rome.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG WALKING)

ADAM RANEY, BYLINE: The sound of Nitro, a chocolate Doberman pinscher on his afternoon walk through the heart of Rome as street music fills the air. His loving owner, Mike LaPointe, dragged behind, happily taking in the sights as we cross the River Tiber.

MIKE LAPOINTE: It's pretty amazing. I really like going over this bridge. I think it's the fourth oldest in the world.

RANEY: LaPointe, a longtime resident of Washington, D.C., now lives along this timeless river with his wife, Gillian Kirkpatrick, and, of course, Nitro. Their apartment is a stone's throw away from the Colosseum and Circus Maximus. Lapointe and Kirkpatrick don't see themselves as tourists. They want to stay in Rome. Mid-career professionals sapped by the isolation of remote work, they came to Italy last fall on temporary student visas, which expire in a few months.

GILLIAN KIRKPATRICK: I've loved Italy since I set foot here in 1985, and I've come back as often as I can for as long as I can. And it's very hard to leave every time it's over.

RANEY: It may not have to be over for them. Italy is about to launch what it calls the digital nomad visa, geared toward remote workers who earn money abroad but want to call Italy home. LaPointe wants to be first in line to apply as soon as the visa is implemented, which could be any day now.

LAPOINTE: The U.S. is a great place to work and is a great place to make money, and Europe is a great place to live. I think that'd be the ultimate telecommute situation for us.

RANEY: The visa is expected to attract thousands of applicants in the first year, people like LaPointe and Kirkpatrick, who have realized remote work would allow them to live their dream life abroad.

LUCA CARABETTA: This kind of law allows us to attract people with no cost for our economy, but only with gains for our economy.

RANEY: That's Parliament member Luca Carabetta of the Five Star Movement. The party was one of the main backers of the new visa. Since it's aimed at relatively high-earning foreigners, supporters see it as a no-brainer. That's in contrast to Italy's strong-armed policy against migrants from Africa. Digital nomads have near universal support, especially since they won't be eligible for social welfare programs and they'll have to provide their own health insurance. Meanwhile, they could potentially pump hundreds of millions of euros into the economy.

A few hours north, Venice, the floating city with stunning plazas like Saint Mark's, was a commercial powerhouse for centuries until it went into decline. Tourism is now the mainstay of its economy. Economist Massimo Warglien from Ca' Foscari University wants to attract digital nomads to Venice to fill the gaps in a city that has lost tens of thousands of residents in recent years. He helped launch Venywhere, where a program to support international remote workers moving to Venice. He says the digital nomad scheme will stimulate innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit.

MASSIMO WARGLIEN: Well, the Venywhere program really has, as a main aim, to bring a population of workers from anywhere to Venice, to make the city a city where you can make experiments with new forms of work.

RANEY: When I asked Warglien again if this was just another way to keep Venice as a playground for the rich, he said no.

WARGLIEN: We are not trying to attract wealthy people. We are trying to attract human capital, which is missing in the city. You want people who come with the energy to do things. The city is losing many of these energies. We want to get them back.

RANEY: The head of Italy's visa unit, Stefano Bianchi, echoes this sentiment.

STEFANO BIANCHI: We need to attract people who can contribute to the relaunching of our economy and to its integration with the global economy.

RANEY: Back on that 2,000-year-old bridge over the Tiber, Gillian Kirkpatrick imagines a lot of workers like her would line up to do just that.

KIRKPATRICK: I know quite a few people who are 100% remote. And you can live anywhere you want and spend some time in Italy. I mean, what could be better than that?

RANEY: For NPR News, I'm Adam Raney in Rome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.