The number of highly educated foreign employees in the Netherlands is steadily increasing. They are still commonly referred to as expats, but that term has become a poor fit for most.
Translation by Traci White
In an in-depth article published earlier this month, Elsevier Weekblad shed light on the changing nature of foreign professionals in the Netherlands, from how long they stay to what kinds of jobs they do and what brought them here in the first place. Dutch and multinational companies, including universities and their employees and students, have embraced the term “internationals” to describe the talented foreign-born men and women who move here for their careers.
When people hear the term “expat” (short for expatriate), they typically think of high-earning employees who have been assigned (or recruited) to work in the Netherlands for their company on a short term basis. They are presumed to be people who have some kind of important job in a large office with specialist knowledge, such as mechanical engineers or embassy staff. Their children are likelier to go to international schools and are perceived as being less likely to integrate into their local community due to the short term nature of their stay.
30 percent ruling
While “expat” is still thrown around as a blanket term, it is increasingly ill-fitting as more and more people are choosing to come and stay in the Netherlands on a permanent basis. It remains true that many foreign-born professionals in the Netherlands are specialists in their fields with skills that are harder to find among the Dutch population. People qualify as knowledge migrants if they earn at least 4,400 euros a month if they are over 30.
Expats are different from knowledge workers due to the temporary nature of their stay in the country, but no matter what their technical title, thousands of foreign professionals were dismayed to hear that the current government cabinet was considering scrapping the 30% tax ruling earlier this year.
Currently, 30 percent of the income earned by highly skilled foreign employees in the Netherlands is tax exempt for eight years. As many as 76,000 employees currently benefit from the ruling, which applies to workers who earn more than 53,000 euros a year and moved to the Netherlands from more than 150 kilometres away.
In April, the government announced plans to make major changes to the programme starting next year. A petition for the government to honour its deal with current foreign professionals has more than 43,000 signatures, and 55,000 euros have been raised to cover eventual legal fees. However, when Rutte was forced to reconsider the dividend tax and the cash flows that would have come with it, the cabinet adopted a softer stance and will likely crate a transitional arrangement for people who came here under the current ruling.
Bringing multinationals here
Ironically, the Dutch government wants to bring more multinational companies to the Netherlands, but the cost of living here makes it difficult for foreign employees to find affordable housing. Ruben Feenstra, a real estate agent, told Elsevier that the fact that municipalities classify shared housing for single professionals as renting out rooms rather than houses, despite the fact that such living arrangements are common in other big cities in English-speaking countries in particular, presents an obstacle for this growing population.
Most companies do not provide housing for their staff and new employees are left to their own devices to find something by looking around online. Regional service centers help newcomers with their legal paperwork, social access, job recommendations and generally point them in the right direction, but housing is out of their hands.
Who are these internationals? Thousands of professionals come here voluntarily rather than being recruited or assigned, and many of them bring their partners and family along with them. While job opportunities are part of the initial draw, thousands of foreigners also set up their own businesses once they arrive here. Hundreds of foreigners are married to Dutch spouses, and they are also looking for work – or setting up their own companies.
Another source of foreign professionals is foreign students who get their degrees at Dutch universities and are eager to stay. The stereotype that international students are just passing through is not only unfair, but also totally inaccurate nowadays. In Groningen, there are five times more students who enrol for the entirety of their bachelor, master or doctoral degree programme these days than those who stay for a few months on Erasmus exchange.
The Elsevier story also highlighted one final growing group of newcomers: foreign employees at Dutch universities. The number of international staff members in Dutch higher education has grown enormously, nearly doubling since 2006. According to the Dutch Universities Association VSNU, around 30 percent of all university staff are foreign-born, and this group is invaluable to the scientific research being carried out in the country.
|Business in the Netherlands: easy to set up, easily unravelled
According to the World Economic Forum list which was published this week, the Netherlands has fallen from 5th to 6th in the Global Competitiveness Report. Nevertheless, the report still heaped praise on the Netherlands, with one caveat: innovation. “The country’s open innovation environment is marked by forgiving cultural attitudes towards entrepreneurial failure, a great willingness to delegate authority, entrepreneurs who are willing to embrace disruptive ideas, and fast-growing innovative companies”, the report reads. “In the Netherlands, businesses are as easy to set up as they are to unravel.”
The Dutch allocate 2 percent of their annual national income to supporting innovation, placing them in 19th position in terms of innovation capability globally. Elsevier writes that the innovations that are occurring in the Netherlands are largely coming from the biggest companies with the most foreign employees.