Dutch society is hardening and highly skilled immigrants are feeling the pressure

Highly skilled knowledge migrants have long been considered a welcome addition to the Netherlands, but opinions about them are said to be changing. According to a survey by newspaper De Volkskrant, many are now feeling a harder attitude towards them. Concerns about their position in Dutch society have also grown among skilled immigrants since the cabinet fell in July 2023 following a political crisis about asylum policy.

Many of the survey’s interviewees, in total 178 people from 37 countries, indicated they feel a general confusion in the Netherlands when it comes to their status. For example, even despite the differences with general migrants and asylum seekers, they all tend to be seen as one group. In addition, interviewees have mentioned that they often experience unfair treatment based on colour of skin, as a British consultant said: “Non-Dutch people, especially people of colour, are seen as the cause of all problems, and are therefore not welcome.” Another highly skilled migrant from Turkey said: “The danger is that all problems will be attributed to migrants,” citing housing shortages and increasing house prices as examples.

Tight labour market
Whilst some people might be concerned about a potential strain on the country’s available space or on its social cohesion due to cultural diversification, immigration can also be considered an enrichment to the country due to incoming knowledge, skills and economic contribution that immigrants bring. The latter applies particularly when there is a tight labour market, when there are many job openings, but available workers are scarce, as is the case in the Netherlands. The Dutch immigration and naturalisation service IND argues there is in fact much demand for knowledge migrants for this reason. IND therefore considers them a solution to a big problem.

Based on its own findings, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has painted a similar picture about the struggling Dutch labour sector, and says that the Netherlands’ economic growth would benefit if the country were to relax its regulations for migrant workers. Organisations in the labour sector agree: “The problem of a shortage of technical staff in the Netherlands is becoming so big that companies are looking at all possible solutions,” recruiter Alrik Lamberink says. In a similar light, the Chairman of the Dutch organisation of small and medium-sized enterprises (MKB-Nederland) Jacco Vonhof has said that the Dutch business community “desperately needs migrant workers to avoid falling behind in areas such as artificial intelligence and energy transition”. Gijs Notté, managing director of skilled migrant specialist Ravecruitment, also calls knowledge migrants highly desirable, for “being able to contribute to economic development, growth of an organisation and diversity and stability of a workforce.” In addition to the energy transition and artificial intelligence, he says that highly skilled migrants are particularly needed in the healthcare sector.

That highly skilled migrants contribute to the Dutch knowledge economy is also supported by the Dutch government, which highlights that they fill jobs as teachers, doctors or academic researchers. Experts such as work training provider Artra also point out that knowledge migrants are deployed in in ICT, healthcare and education. National broadcaster NOS points out that multinationals and technology companies, business service providers, banks and higher education institutions often serve as sponsors.

The bigger picture
According to Statistics Netherlands (CBS), at the end of 2021 around 60,000 highly skilled migrants from outside the EU/EFTA were living in the Netherlands. To work as a highly skilled migrant in the Netherlands, a residence permit is required and, if they are from a country outside the EU, an IND-recognised sponsor. Many highly skilled immigrants originate from India, Russia, Turkey and South Africa.

All in all, there are many types of organisations across the Netherlands that consider attracting foreign talent to be crucial for international competitiveness and growth, and the Dutch government encourages ‘innovative entrepreneurs and scientists’ in particular to come to the Netherlands.

Written by Femke van Iperen