Context Labour inclusion

Labour inclusion in the Netherlands

Third country nationals are granted significant support and information to access the Dutch labour market.

Labour inclusion_TheNetherlands


To work without restrictions in the Netherlands, one must possess the correct residence permit. In October 2020, the national employment insurance agency UWV reports that 61% of people with a migrant background have some form of legal, tax-paying employment. For those without a migrant background, the figure is only slightly higher, at 69%. There are a range of different resident permits available depending on the applicant’s age, duration of stay in the Netherlands, sector of work and skill level. Each permit provided different conditions to allow the individual to enjoy paid employment. Increasingly, the Netherlands is working to market itself as the international innovating economy for investment, innovation and high skills. In 2021, a new addition to the menu of possible visas was launched – the startup visa, which is designed to give Dutch start-up companies better opportunities to recruit foreign staff with special expertise.

Generally, third country nationals are granted significant support and information to access the Dutch labour market. Expat desks (physical and virtual) are present in at least 12 cities in the country to provide legal advice, referrals, workshops, as well as information about housing and relocation for foreign workers who are preparing to settle. Led by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Dutch government launched the NL Talent Coalition in 2017 in an effort to better attract and retain third country nationals as labour. Amidst the realization training and upskilling of the local population will not appease growing labour shortages, the NL Talent Coalition now works to “lay the red carpet” for international talent through the provision and adjustment of policy and procedure.

During the first six months after lodging an asylum claim, an asylum seeker cannot work at all. Following this initial six-month period, asylum seekers have restricted access to the labour market until the point when they secure a residence permit. This restrictive six-month period allows individuals to work for 24 out of 52 weeks. But only if they have a foreign nationals identity document, and if their employer is in possession of a “tewerkstellingsvergunning” certificate work permit. As certain conditions and legal obligations must be taken into account by the employer but also the migrant employee, this certificate verifies an employer’s capacity to recruit migrants and adhere to state regulations associated with this. For asylum seekers who pursue this option of working to receive an income while they are in the asylum procedure, a proportion of their standard living allowance will be deducted by the Centraal Orgaan opvang asielzoekers (COA) – the national body that is responsible for the housing and wellbeing of asylum seekers in asylum centers. In reality, this rule could act as a deterrent for migrants to seek and declare paid employment during their asylum procedure. However, those who are still willing to work during their asylum procedure can benefit from establishing an early foothold on the career and integration path, with the intention of continuing their employment if/when their asylum claim is approved. 

Once migrants receive a positive residence permit outcome, they are permitted to work free from restrictions, and can apply for jobs with all. Unfortunately, many migrants struggle to secure meaningful work until they improve their Dutch language skills, as well as upskill, retrain and become familiar with Dutch culture. As with most European countries, even individuals who conducted a highly skilled profession in their country of origin may be disappointed to find that they are required to conduct manual/menial labour or voluntary work until they integrate further and complete their state integration examination. A range of social benefits are available for migrants who have a residence permit but earn insufficient income on the legal job market. Social benefits include social assistance to cover daily living expenses such as food, clothes, transport. Social benefits are also available to cover or subsidize monthly housing rent, monthly health insurance costs, child- related expenses. When individuals are able to secure higher paying jobs, or find ways to increase their incomes, the availability of social benefits is reduced until the ideal outcome – which is that the migrant becomes financially self sufficient. 

Those who receive a negative asylum claim, are not legally permitted to work under any conditions. 

Migrants who wish to naturalize or for any other reason need to complete the state integration examination have been required to complete the Orientation on the Dutch Labour Market (ONA) examination, which serves as orientation, preparation and expectation setting for migrants to enter the Dutch labour market. The entire process can take several months and entails two parts: producing a portfolio of assignments and a 64-hour course or final interview (in spoken Dutch). Exceptions to this integration obligation are foreseen, particularly if the individual already has secured employment.

Statistics Netherlands has calculated that the number of highly skilled migrant workers has grown from 2.7% to 4.2% of the labor force in the past fifteen years. Compared to other EU member states, the Dutch highly skilled migrant procedures are considered to be the most flexible and least complicated in the region. Employers must first secure a certification as a “recognised sponsor” through the Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND), indicating that they as an employer have the capacity and resources to support a migrant for the purposes of employment. Once the recognized sponsorship certification is secured, employers can proceed with an application for a visa on behalf of their new employee. A wide range of conditions determines which type of visa applies, the duration of validity, obligations of the employer and obligations of the employee. Rules can differ depending on details such as the age of the employee, their country of origin, the sector of work and even their job function.


The Dutch integration policy and procedure centres itself upon the path for an individual to become financial and socially self sufficient. Integration obligations require migrants to gain experience in the labour market not only to secure an income, but also to practice Dutch language skills, build a social network and contribute to their communities. The closure of workplaces, particularly in the hospitality sector due to the pandemic has hit migrants particularly hard. Many low skilled and vocational professions are dominated by migrants, but unfortunately, these are also the professions and sectors of the economy that cannot be implemented remotely or virtually (fruit picking, cleaning, construction work). Leaving many migrants without work and without social interaction. Migrants tend to work under temporary and flexible work contracts, which has resulted in unemployment without severance pay or other benefits.

The Dutch Refugee Agency reports that migrants have struggled to navigate through the pandemic what their rights and obligations are when it comes to work, income, their integration requirements, taxes and benefits. Standard avenues for information tend to only offer information in Dutch, and many support centers have closed. Particularly during the so called “first wave”, migrants struggled with the lack of clarity until the national and local governments established Covid-19 rights and obligations for migrants, and employers rolled out their own Covid-19 contingency plans.

For the undocumented migrants, an already dire situation has pushed many migrants into destitution. No work for these groups means no income. Undocumented migrants cannot access social benefits, cannot open a bank account and may struggle when standard support networks such as friends and family also lose their jobs due to the pandemic. 

Completing integration classes, gaining credits through work participation and subsequently passing the state integration examination are critical steps toward meaningful employment for migrants. In April 2020, the integration exams of about 15,000 migrants were postponed. Such delays are expected to have a protracted effect, meaning that the current inability to practice Dutch language skills, to gain useful soft skills, to build a network, to strengthen job skills and to sustain a level of self esteem needed to perform in the workplace, may have long term effects of a stagnation in an individual’s progress toward meaningful work

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