Non-EU students: Welcome to the Netherlands. You’re fucked.

by Marget McSorley

Non-EU students: Welcome to the Netherlands. You’re fucked.Non-EU students come to the Netherlands to work hard at world-class universities. But unfortunately recent changes in Dutch law make it almost impossible for them to find a student job to support themselves throughout their studies. A personal account from a non-EU student.

Dit artikel verschijnt binnenkort in de dubbeldikke Krantje Boord zomer editie.

November 10th, 2010 was the day that my life changed for the better. It was the day that I was accepted to study at University College Utrecht. Six weeks later, two days short of Christmas, I received the best Christmas present that I will ever receive: a generous scholarship that enabled me to afford the €17.000 fee to study there. My scholarship was calculated, so that after taking out the maximum in American government-backed loans, $5.000 per year (approximately €3.540), I would just be able to cover all the non-EU student fees with almost nothing left over. That didn’t faze me. I diligently saved up every penny from my serving job at a steakhouse on the northwest side of Chicago, and sold my old books, CDs and clothes, but I didn’t have a lot of money left over. But with almost six years of experience working in restaurants and bars, I thought that I would be able to find a job easily in the Netherlands and be able to live a happy, if frugal, student life.

“With almost six years of experience working in restaurants and bars, I thought that I would be able to find a job easily in the Netherlands and be able to live a happy, if frugal, student life.”

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Recent changes in Dutch law now require non-EU students to have a work permit in order to work. Before these changes went into effect, a student visa was sufficient to find work for a few hours a week during the academic year or full-time during the summer holiday. I’ve been looking for work since the second week of the semester, and have been apologetically turned away at every place of business when I said that I am a non-EU national. I don’t claim to be the victim of discrimination or blame the shopkeepers and bar managers of Utrecht. From their perspective, it simply does not make economic sense for them to go through a six to eight week permitting process to hire a non-EU bartender or shelf-stocker. According to the foreign work placement agency Unduchables, the employer must be able to legally prove that after looking for an employee for over six weeks, no Dutch or EU citizens would have been a good fit for the job, and thus the employer was forced to hire a non-EU national. When a cafe or a bakery needs to find an emergency employee, they can’t afford to wait six to eight weeks for a work permit to be approved after having the job posted for at least six weeks.

Many of my new Dutch friends have suggested that I find work through a student recruitment agency. As a non-EU national, this is not possible. The recruitment agency is technically the employer in this situation, but they are not able to apply for work permits for non-EU citizens because they are not the formal employer.

I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to finish my studies. But a life, even a student life, with no opportunities to legally earn money, is no life at all. After buying books, bedding and, admittedly, a few beers, my Chicago savings ran out in March. When I got tonsillitis a week later, I drank liters of water and cut out all sugary foods from my diet in the hopes that the infection would go away on its own. I didn’t have 30 euros to pay the doctor’s fee or money for antibiotics. Because of the structure of student insurance plans, all plans come with an excess of around €250 that does not get reimbursed. I’m lucky that the infection went away on its own. Can you imagine not going to the doctor because you can’t afford it? This is a part of my reality.

Like most non-EU student that I know, I didn’t come to the Netherlands for a handout from the Dutch government. I don’t need to qualify for StuFi, or receive a free OV-chipkaart. I don’t think I’m entitled to free health care. I understand and accept that non-EU students have to pay higher fees. But non-EU students come to the Netherlands to work hard at world-class universities. Many of us will end up staying here as part of the highly-educated workforce that the Netherlands is known for. However, if current trends in immigration legislation continue, the Netherlands will no longer be able to attract top-flight talent from abroad. All that I want, and all that most other non-EU students want, is to have the ability to easily find student jobs so that we can support ourselves throughout our studies. That isn’t too much to ask for, is it?”

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