Navigating Post-Graduation Challenges: Job Search Struggles for Non-EU Students under the One-Year Zoekjaar Visa in the Netherlands 

Written by Rizwan Rafi Togoo
Job Search Struggles for Non-EU Students under the One-Year Zoekjaar Visa in the Netherlands 

Every year, many international students from across the globe opt for the Netherlands as their preferred destination for obtaining higher education at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. The Netherlands has witnessed a remarkable surge in the overall count of international students, with figures soaring from a mere 31,492 in 2006 to an astounding 122,287 in 2022. While most international students in the Netherlands originate from neighboring European countries, there is also a smaller cohort, constituting 28% of the total international student community, hailing from regions beyond the European continent.

The experience of international students originating from countries outside the European Union (EU) in the Netherlands is characterized by persistent challenges. These challenges commence during the application process, wherein they encounter the arduous task of fulfilling stringent requirements for obtaining a student visa. Subsequently, throughout their academic journey, these students face the burden of paying nearly twice the tuition fees compared to their peers from EU member states. (EU/EEA students relish the advantage of reduced tuition costs for both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at public universities in the Netherlands, with annual fees typically ranging between 700 and 2,100 EUR in comparison to students outside the EU who pay 6,000–15,000 EUR/year for an undergraduate degree and between  EUR 8,000–20,000/year for a postgraduate degree.) This struggle persists even after graduation, as these individuals, under the Dutch government's Zoekjaar visa policy, enter the job market with added disadvantages and limited time to secure suitable employment opportunities. 

Zoekjaar - Navigating the Job Market

Navigating the Job Market Maze: Zokjejaar Visa Holders' Race Against Time and Limited Opportunities

After completing their university degrees from various Dutch universities, all students from outside the EU are entitled to a Dutch Zoekjaar (orientation year) visa, which allows them to live and work in the Netherlands without a work permit for a period of one year. Most students in the job market hope to find employment in fields that match their academic qualifications. Still, the Dutch job market, which is already characterized as discriminatory to migrants, prevents these young fresh graduates who have obtained a Dutch university education from pursuing their professional dreams.  

Unlike many other migrant groups, this privilege expires after a one-year timeframe. Students who fail to secure formal visa sponsorship from an employer within this period are forced to leave the Netherlands and start anew. This predicament creates a discouraging atmosphere for employers who seek long-term commitments and prefer candidates without the requirement of going through lengthy bureaucratic procedures and incurring additional expenses. Consequently, employers may opt for alternative candidates, which poses a significant challenge for Zokejaar visa holders who possess suitable academic qualifications but face rejection due to circumstances beyond their control.

It is not unusual to come across Zoekjaar visa holders in the Netherlands who, despite possessing exceptional academic qualifications, find themselves working in jobs such as restaurant waiters, construction workers, cleaners, or factory employees as a means of survival. This phenomenon occurs during an ongoing struggle, where individuals must navigate the dual responsibilities of job hunting and work in roles that starkly contrast with their educational background.

Recommendations to address the issue

A multifaceted approach is essential to address the challenges Zoekjaar visa holders face in the Dutch job market. Firstly, it is crucial for the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science to officially recognize the valuable contributions of international students, especially those from outside the EU, who pay higher tuition fees and bear additional costs. This acknowledgment sets the foundation for subsequent actions.

Moreover, Dutch public universities should prioritize the mental well-being of non-EU students and ensure they feel supported after graduation. Establishing a system where public universities offer continued career counseling tailored explicitly to non-EU students is essential. This guidance will equip them with strategies to overcome the systematic disadvantages they face in the job market.

Additionally, considering the economic benefits that non-EU students bring to the Dutch economy, the Dutch government should implement policies to alleviate their financial struggles. Introducing a modest monthly stipend for these recent graduates would provide them with the means to fulfill basic needs such as housing and food. This would reduce their reliance on low-skilled jobs while they search for suitable employment opportunities.

In conclusion, by acknowledging the value of international students, providing ongoing career support, and offering financial assistance, the Dutch government and institutions can foster a more inclusive environment for Zoekjaar visa holders. These measures will enhance their prospects and contribute to a thriving and diverse workforce in the Netherlands.