Love ❤️ Us or Hate Us: Non-EU Migrants and the Dutch Labor Market

Written by Khushi Jeswani
diverse men and women sitting at a table and writing on paper and books

Many presumptions are made by us, as migrants, before moving to the Netherlands. As an Indian woman migrating to the Netherlands, I had many presumptions about how my life would evolve. For instance, the labor market in my mind was going to be extremely inviting, rainbows and sunshine. However, upon moving here, obtaining what I think is an excellent education, and graduating from a Dutch research university, I discovered that the Dutch labor market was an unknown realm. In this blog post, I will discuss my personal experiences with job hunting in the Netherlands, and reflect briefly on things that made me feel angry or frustrated, as well as how I personally find motivation to keep going and trying, even when demotivating things occur. I am confident that readers will likely connect with some of my experiences and I urge them to reflect on their journeys in the Dutch labor market as well.

In my journey, I felt no education or training could have prepared me for this job struggle. I quickly discovered this process of job hunting was difficult, exhausting, demotivating, most of all, frustrating. My reality was very far from my expectations, I felt unwanted and as though I was unhireable in the eyes of Dutch employers. There are many reasons for this but in this article, I will focus on one specific occurrence: the continuous and unavoidable bias that many non-EU migrants have to fight in the Dutch labor market and recruitment process.

What is this bias?

This bias takes a multitude of forms. Through the rejections I have received several contradicting reasons as to why I haven't been chosen for this role, either I lack experience, or my non-EU visa makes it impossible for them to hire or sponsor me. Whether I was merely interviewed for diversity reasons is a question I always ask myself, and often I believe this to be true, as rejection letters lack any viable reason or personal understanding of my situation.

This bias can look like:

  • companies stating in bold or all caps that non-EU applicants will not be considered due to legal/ sponsorship reasons. I have seen job applications that explicitly mention applicants from a very specific list of countries are not welcome.
  • recruiters adopting 'legal talk' to reject you. I have been told that my visa is not appropriate for multiple jobs and recruiters are legally restricted from hiring me. I am very oblivious to this reasoning given that my orientation visa grants me the opportunity to work anywhere, and the fact that I require sponsorship in the future is a fact that is obvious in my face and CV, so why invite me to an interview after all?
  • recruiters asking for very specific information from you or making unwanted comments concerning your origin. This is a very common occurrence in the lives of most people of color but is often so normalized that it does not warrant any discussion or criticism, which is problematic. I have been asked irrelevant questions or comments by recruiters that have no place in a job interview and should have no impact on my chances of getting the job.

This bias has been shown statistically as well:

  • AI or HR personnel are known to employ tactics such as filtering CVs/ applicants based on their names in which any ethnic-sounding names will automatically not be considered or more likely to be rejected. A 2020 IAmExpat.nl article shows that 24% of rejected candidates were people of color, compared to 12% of rejected Dutch candidates (Deloughry, 2020)
  • Some recruiters in the NL have been very explicit about their employee preferences and are more likely to assume that white people are better suited for some roles than others. It was shown that there is an ethnic hierarchy in the minds of employers that comes into play when recruiting, and significantly affects the chances of non-EU immigrants finding proper jobs (Thijssen et al., 2021)

Who faces this bias?

Recruitment processes are inevitably political and a lack of discussion on this topic makes it even harder for non-EU migrants to feel welcome in the Netherlands. Most of this bias falls on the shoulders of those that lack EU citizenship, and on those who are assumed to lack EU citizenship. Therefore, a lot of value is taken off some people. This is an extremely unfair process and something unexpected when people move to the Netherlands with the expectation that they will be seen as proficient and valuable employees.

What can we do about this bias?

The first thing we can do is talk about it. The importance of discussions is often undermined, but they are an essential part of solving a problem. The more we recognize a problem, the sooner we can reach a solution, or at least, a coping mechanism. While we cannot solve institutional racism single-handedly, we can teach ourselves and others that finding success in the face of adversity is part of the migrant's story. Some people are ascribed privileges that make it easier for them to achieve their goals while it's harder for many more people. We can apply these skills and experience gained from multiple struggles in a market that sometimes makes us feel unwanted, to our motivation for achieving our goals. And when we have achieved our goals, albeit much later or with more difficulty than we expected, we will not only associate much more value and gratefulness for those riches but will be able to use our position and positionality to do more for others at the start of their struggle. To be able to use hardship as motivation is the best and most we can do.

Khushi Jeswani, Marketing Coordinator and Writer for Empowerment Foundation

References

Deloughry, J. (2020). Dutch job candidates face discrimination based on gender, age, and ethnic background. Expat Info News. IAmExpat.nl. Retrieved from https://www.iamexpat.nl/expat-info/dutch-expat-news/dutch-job-candidates-face-discrimination-based-gender-age-and-ethnic

Thijssen, L., Coenders, M. & Lancee, B. (2021). Ethnic Discrimination in the Dutch Labor Market: Differences Between Ethnic Minority Groups and the Role of Personal Information About Job Applicants—Evidence from a Field Experiment. Int. Migration & Integration 22, 1125–1150. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12134-020-00795-w