The Dutch Employee Insurance Agency (UWV) can no longer impose a restriction allowing asylum seekers to work only for a maximum of 24 weeks per year when granting work permits. The imposition of this 24-week requirement impedes effective access for asylum seekers to the Dutch labor market. The Council of State‘s Administrative Jurisdiction Division has found that this requirement is in violation of European law, particularly the European Reception Directive, and diminishes its intended purpose and effectiveness.
UWV restrictions: Impact on asylum seekers and employers
EU law requires member states to ensure that asylum seekers have meaningful access to the labor market, but they have the leeway to establish specific terms. In the Netherlands, this took the form of the 24-week rule, which limited asylum seekers to working no more than 24 weeks in a 52-week period. The UWV defended this restriction by claiming that extending it could give asylum seekers the impression that they have a good chance of obtaining permanent residency in the Netherlands, potentially entitling them to unemployment benefits. The legal proceedings that led to today’s ruling were brought by employers who contested the UWV’s denial of work permit applications for two asylum seekers who would surpass the prescribed 24-week work limit.
Legal ruling and implications: Broadening access to labor market
The Administrative Jurisdiction Division determined that the European Reception Directive seeks to empower asylum seekers to become independent. This overarching objective encompasses facilitating their entry into the labor market and guaranteeing equitable opportunities to integrate into the workforces of European Union member states. The Division concluded that the 24-week restriction contravenes the European Reception Directive’s underlying principles and goals, as it confines asylum seekers’ labor market access to just 24 weeks within a 52-week period, effectively barring them from participating for the remaining 28 weeks.
The Division further cited a report by research firm Regioplan, commissioned by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment in April 2023. This report determined that the 24-week rule hinders asylum seekers’ effective integration into the labor market, posing a substantial obstacle for employers seeking long-term employees. Under this regulation, asylum seekers are perceived as less appealing hires, rendering them economically unattractive to most employers. Consistent with the Luxembourg Court of Justice’s jurisprudence, which prohibits member states from implementing measures that undermine the Reception Directive’s objectives, the Administrative Jurisdiction Division deemed the 24-week requirement unenforceable, aligning with previous court rulings on this matter.