Catch 22: The Dutch Orientation Visa
“The Netherlands is very welcoming to expats.”
I thought so for a long time. I came to the Netherlands to do my PhD and have lived here for 5 years. After graduation I left my own country and tried to find work there when I realized that most jobs in my own country did not fit my potential. The Netherlands is so welcoming that it offers expats the possibility to search for a job while present in the country for one year. This special visa is called orientation year (Zoekjaar) visa. Little did I know how troublesome it would be to use it.
The application for the orientation year permit went smoothly and I had my visa a month after applying. The Dutch system seemed to be working perfectly! I reserved one and a half month before moving to the Netherlands for finding a place to live, subscribed to paid and unpaid websites to search for a room, and started looking for an opportunity with roommates since I had a low budget for the duration of the orientation year. Most of the rooms with roommates were offered to students only and I was not a student anymore. Still, I found several options and got in touch.
Nobody wanted to consider me, since I was far away and in the Netherlands there were other candidates who were coming to the meetings in person. I never reached a stage of a Skype session that allowed for personal acquaintance. So the day of my departure came and I asked my friends to host me while I sorted out my living arrangements. Surely, when I would have a personal contact they would rent me an apartment?
Upon arrival, I had several appointments with potential landlords. To my surprise they all said the same: “I cannot rent to you because you have no job contract.” The first question of every agency was: “What is your salary?” I did not have a job contract or a salary. I told them all that I have sufficient savings to live in the Netherlands for the duration of my visa. It was not sufficient for them.
After one week I was already seeing the bigger picture. I needed a non-standard solution, which I finally got through my connections in Holland. A friend of a friend was looking for a third person with whom to rent a house in Rotterdam. I joined in. My future roommates, two Indians, were Master students. The girl who had just finished her Masters applied for the same orientation year visa and was in a better state then I: she had a job contract. However, she had the same problems I did. Her contract stated that she would be hired for three months plus one year if she passes the probation period. She heard the same from landlords: “I cannot rent to you because the contract is too short.” The Indian boy was still a student but in his final stages of the Master’s thesis and was going to apply for an orientation year the moment he would get his defense date. A landlord from Rotterdam agreed to at least speak with us to try and solve our issues.
It was an hour-long talk with the landlord and his agent. He disagreed to rent to me, again stating that I have no job contract. He saw my bank statements, but said: “It is your money, not my money. I cannot get it.” Apparently if you have a job contract and you do not pay your rent then a landlord can go to your employer and complain. He agreed to rent to the Indian girl although she had a short contract but only after checking her bank statements and seeing that she still received money from her parents. In the end, the deal was for her to rent from the landlord, and the landlord agreed that she would sublet to me and the other Indian guy. Plus, he demanded a three-month deposit, of course.
Hitting Dutch Bureaucracy
At this point I thought I had found a solution, but my problems had just begun. So after transferring the deposit, plus one month actual rent, we signed the contract and were given the keys to the apartment. The landlord said that we needed to register in the city hall of Rotterdam before moving in. There, they gave us forms to fill out and at that point it turned out that we rented a house in a special neighborhood, for which we needed a special permit, allowing us to live there (Huisvestingsvergunning). It was a big surprise!
They told us that it can take 2-6 weeks to process this permit. As a matter of fact, our landlord needed to sign these forms and give his permission. I got four forms to complete:
- A permit to live in the specific neighborhood (huisvestingsvergunning)
- A permit from the landlord (verhuurdersverklaring)
- A permit from the main tenant (verklaring van inwoning)
- A change of address (aangifte adreswijziging)
The advice we were given at city hall was that, for a faster process, we needed to send the forms by mail. Two weeks later we received the forms back, asking us to come in person. It was the same appointment with the same person who had first told me that I did not need a huisvestingsvergunning because they usually granted “one permit per house.” This time, I was told I did need it and that they would not give it to me because I did not have a job contract.
Now it has been almost a month since I have paid for an apartment I am not allowed to live in. I find myself struggling with the Dutch system. On one side, it is welcoming you to use an orientation visa, but nobody is talking to you or helping you find a place to live if you do not have a job contract.
I suspect that if I got a job offer right now, I would be in trouble again because I am not registered. You need to have a rental contract to get a job and you need to have a job contract to find a place to live.
One thing is clear: the Netherlands is welcoming to expats but only if they have a job contract.
Daniela Ullien is a Russian born who lived in Israel for 10 years and did her PhD in the Netherlands. Moving experience has taught her to read more blogs and forums about expat life, in addition to contributing her own experience to the community.