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Netherlands: Better Conditions For Skilled Workers

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By Alex Oparah: From Amsterdam **
In the Netherlands most expatriates earning more than Euro.45,000 per year will no longer need to apply for work permits after October 1, 2004 under a plan approved by the Cabinet . The new system reduces the paperwork for skilled workers entering the Netherlands, and  is designed to contribute to economic growth in the country by stimulating investment in the so-called “ knowledge industries.”

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The changes are part of a package proposed by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, which effectively creates a two-tier system for the foreign workers in the Netherlands: employees earning less than Euro.45,000 per year ( or below Euro32,000 if they are under the age of 30 ) must still apply for work permits, but the so-called “ knowledge workers “ earning more than Euro.45,000 ( or Euro.32,000 if under 30-year old ) annually, will be permitted to work legally without first obtaining a permit. Eligible “ knowledge workers” will automatically receive a residence permit for a maximum of 5 five years.

This significantly reduces bureaucratic challenges for professional workers from outside the European Union and European Economic Region. According to the Ministry of Economic Affairs, however, the October 1 changes are just a first step. Economic Affairs Minister, Jan Laurens Brinkhorst hopes that the changes will pave way the way for the eventual creation of a “green card”-style system under which the Dutch government will set annual limits for appropriately qualified professionals in labour-short fields, who will be free to enter the country  without first arranging contracts of  employment with companies.

Under the October changes, ‘knowledge migrants’  must   be employed before they are issued with a residence permit. Minister Brinkhorst has campaigned strongly for the changes, which he believed will stimulate ‘knowledge industries’ including ICT  technology and research. The plan, which his Ministry hopes will form the basis of an “immigration policy to encourage the transfer of knowledge,“ is also intended to “ improve the attractiveness of  the Netherlands’  investment climate,” according to a Ministry spokeswoman.

The Ministry hopes that in the short term, the relaxed regulations will attract international research and development specialists, including those working in higher education.

The Immigration and Naturalization Bureau (IND) will introduce a new ‘One window, one procedure and one permit’ system for knowledge migrants, and promises that all applications will be dealt with within two weeks. Companies and institutions- employing foreign professionals can arrange even quicker applications. The  Euro.424  ‘processing fee’ will still apply.

While in general terms all foreign professional workers earning over Euro.45,000 or Euro.32,000 gross annually will be eligible under the new system, there are some exceptions. These include academics aged under 30 working or studying at Dutch universities, and sex-workers. On the advice of the Ministry of Social Affairs, the cabinet ruled that prostitutes will be excluded.

While some foreign sex-workers in the Netherlands will meet the income threshold, the cabinet said that prostitution, while a legal occupation, could not be considered “knowledge work” and will continue to be governed by industry-specific regulations.

***Alex Oparah is The EAC Co-rdinator – Netherlands

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