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The First Appointments

If you’re past the age of studenthood but not yet an established professional, then moving to (northern) Europe can be tricky. Most immigrants are obliged to find an employer willing (and able) to sponsor them for a residence permit, and unfortunately such employers seem to be, in this day and age, few and far between. However, don’t lose hope! You may qualify as a freelancer without even realizing it.
So Anglified are they, they’re punning at a 12th grade level. (I recommend avoiding eye-contact with the cashier when buying these – or better yet, fake a phone call with a hilarious friend).

Appointment at City Hall (Gemeente)

Here’s what you need for your appointment:

  • Passport
  • Apostled birth certificate
  • Rental contract

The point of this appointment is (1) to register your address in their system, and more importantly (2) to get them to send you a BSN. You need the BSN to open a bank account. However, my experience was that they would not give me the BSN until after my appointment at the IND. They need to know that you’ve applied for residency with the IND before they’ll give it to you, so they gave me instead a piece of paper and asked me to get the IND to sign it once I’ve met with them. Without the BSN you can’t have a bank account, and without an account you can’t have the bank statements for the IND – in effect they force you to go to the IND appointment unprepared. It is the most imperfect system imaginable. Don’t worry, the IND will let you send in the documents after your appointment.

Get Health Insurance

It doesn’t really matter when you do this, so I’m sticking it right here. You need a basic plan (one, my lawyer informed me, that must cover “psychiatric hospitalization” which is apparently standard). It’s all doable online. I chose Zekur but there are multiple options. The Netherlands has a joint private/public health care system – it’s not like the NHS in Britain; you need health insurance here but it’s not so pricy. I pay €92 per month. At no point was I ever asked to show proof of my health insurance, but I did read that it is required for your KvK registration and IND application. So there you go.

Appointment at the Immigration Bureau (IND)

Everything else in the process is a prerequisite for this appointment and the application you’ll bring to it. The IND are the ones who can grant you your residence/work permit. Unfortunately, it is impossible for you to meet with them and bring a completed application – you don’t have a BSN so you’ll be missing several things. Fortunately they were very relaxed about that and about letting me send in those missing things in the following weeks, but it is still a horribly illogical system. Bring this stuff with you:

  • The letter that they send you when you make the appointment.
  • Passport.
  • A passport photo. This must be to their specifications. The easiest way is to just pop into a photographer’s somewhere in the NL.
  • €600. This is the application fee (as of 2013). Kiss it goodbye.
  • The IND’s application form for freelancers. The Dutch name for the form is Aanvraag verblijfsvergunning regulier zonder MVV of wijziging verblijfsdoel (The form itself is also available in English: “Application for a residence permit without MVV or change purpose of stay”). (Note: This is where the process differs for American applications. On this form Americans may tick the box for applying as a freelancer under the Dutch-American Friendship Treaty; if you’re not American you must choose Residence Permit to Work on a Self-Employed Basis and they’ll list the documents you need). On this form you’ll have to fill out a bunch of information, and you’ll also need to attach some documents to it:
    • Your KvK registration. If your experience is like mine, you won’t have been able to get this yet. Don’t worry.
    • Evidence showing the legal form of your company. They mention this on the application. I still have no idea what they mean. My KvK registration ended up serving as suitable evidence for this. Ask your lawyer about it, I guess.
    • Proof of €4,500 in a Dutch business account. You won’t have a Dutch account yet because you won’t have a BSN yet. I brought proof of this amount in my American account, which seemed to please the immigration officer at the time – but later they sent me a letter saying they needed proof of that amount in a Dutch business account.
    • Extra documents if you don’t qualify for the Dutch-American Friendship Treaty. Check what the form says here. I think they essentially just want more proof that your business will float.
  • Letters from your clients. Make sure your clients know that you’re applying for a freelancer’s permit, not an employee’s. Have them avoid the words “employee” and “employer” altogether. I was advised to get at least three such letters.
  • Additional supporting documents. I included the following, thinking they could do nothing but possibly strengthen my application:
    • My business plan.
    • Letters of recommendation that I used during my job hunt (as character references).
    • A recent, positive lesson observation report (as a professional reference).
    • Bank documents proving that I had made a living previously as a freelance teacher.
    • Official copies of my diplomas and teaching certification.
  • Materials from your lawyer. As I mentioned above, the most helpful thing my lawyer did was provide two things for this IND application: (1) an excerpt from Dutch law quoting the clause that proved that my proposed situation fell under the confines of the law, and (2) a letter in Dutch explaining why legally my application could/should not be rejected. Obviously you’re not required to submit these documents, but I felt much better having them.
  • The paper from the City Hall. This is not part of your IND application, but it’s the thing you need to get signed to satisfy the City Hall that you’re in the IND’s system. You’ll have gotten it from your appointment at City Hall. Show it to the IND officer and ask him/her to sign it. When you bring this paper back to City Hall, they’ll finally agree to give you a BSN, which is the key to everything else you still need to do.

My experience was that they accepted all my documents, took my fingerprints, and then gave me something I was unprepared for, a so-called temporary visa. The dialogue went like this:

Immigration Man: OK, and now please to give me your passport for a moment.

Me: Right, OK. [I hand over the passport. Imm. Man takes the passport and disappears into the back room. Several minutes pass. He returns.]

Immigration Man: OK Mr. T----, there it is your permit. Please. [He hands me the passport. In it is an official-looking shiny pink sticker.]

Me: My what?

Immigration Man: Your permit. It is a temporary permit until you get your permit. Please.

Me: [surprised; cautiously optimistic] Oh! So, with this permit I can work?

Immigration Man: I don’t see why not. Yes.

Me: [mounting optimism] Oh! But… is it legal?

Immigration Man: Is what legal?

Me: Working. Is it legal for me to work with this permit?

Immigration Man: [after brief consideration] I guess not. But I don’t know who is going to know or care.

Needless to say, for a brief spell I thought I’d had a stroke of luck. But after I showed the sticker in my passport to my lawyer, he translated that the temporary permit, in no uncertain terms, forbade paid work of any kind. The temporary permit just gives you the right to stay in the NL until a decision has been made about your permit application. I will allow you to interpret the conversation as you like, however; I kid you not that the last line was his verbatim response.

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