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Hawaii’s new remote-work program will cover your airfare in exchange for volunteering

People are seen on the beach and in the water in front of the Kahala Hotel & Resort in Honolulu, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020. Some locals in the tourism-dependent state have mixed feelings about the return of visitors during the pandemic after enjoying Hawaii beaches with dramatically fewer tourists since March. (AP)

While you might be eyeing remote-work visas abroad as a way to travel internationally again, Hawaii just created a long-term-stay program for U.S. residents to get away from the mainland.

Movers & Shakas, a state- and company-funded program, will provide airfare to Oahu to 50 out-of-staters willing to spend at least a month in Hawaii volunteering with nonprofits. The program begins Dec. 15.

A spokesperson for the program said that depending on how the Oahu pilot program goes, future volunteering remote workers heading to other islands could be eligible for the free roundtrip airfare.

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But the state stresses that it is not all mai tais and fun in the sun: Volunteering is a requirement. Participants will “need to give a few hours [per] week to a nonprofit that fits their skillset,” a spokesperson for the program said in an email. In exchange, the remote workers will also get exclusive access to deals at local-run hotels and restaurants.

The agreement aims to alleviate the strain tourism-dependent businesses in the state are seeing during the pandemic.

“We wanted to help fill the gap from the decrease we’ve experienced in the 7-day visitors to our state,” Jason Higa, a co-founder of the program and CEO of FCH Enterprises, said in a statement. With many people now working remotely, he said, there’s an opportunity for “professionals seeking a safe, warm environment to continue living their normal lives while contributing to the Hawai‘i community.”

As for coronavirus cases, which have seen sporadic spikes in the state since it reopened to coronavirus-tested travelers on Oct. 15: “Hawai‘i currently has the lowest rate per capita of COVID infections in the country, also making it one of the safest places to live and work,” the temporary resident program said in its announcement of the opportunity.

Visitors to Hawaii must obtain a negative coronavirus test from an approved lab 72 hours prior to their arrival in the state or quarantine for 14 days.

John Leong, CEO of Hawaii-based youth and environmental nonprofit KUPU, is excited about a tourism program to the state that is based on getting visitors working.

“It encourages people to come back to Hawaiʻi,” Leong said, “not as spectators but actively supporting the growth of values rooted in the aloha spirit and making our state and communities stronger.”

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