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Breaking Barriers: Netherlands Removes 24-Week Work Restriction for Asylum Seekers

The 24-weeks requirement 


On the 29th of November, 2023, the Council of State finally ruled on the 24-weeks requirement for asylum seekers, making it no longer valid. This final verdict is a result of several years of collective effort by various players. For Delitelabs and our partner, Ben & Jerry’s and Radboud Universiteit, this journey started in 2019, where our entrepreneurship program participant, Emrullah, wished to start a short part-time employment at Ben and Jerry’s Scoop Shop, but encountered obstacles and difficulties. The thing is that, while asylum seekers in the Netherlands can start looking for jobs after six months in the country, the 24-weeks rule made it very difficult for them to gain a permanent position. Here's why:


There are regulations within the European Union (EU), called the European Reception Directive, that aim to guarantee asylum seekers will gain fair opportunities across the EU (European Commision 2024). This includes things like finding a place to live, food, financial help and of course, a job. The idea is to have a set of standards to ensure that asylum seekers have effective access to the local labor market.


But here's the catch: the EU lets each member state figure out exactly how they want to follow these rules. So before, in the Netherlands, asylum seekers could only work for a maximum of 24 weeks out of a whole year (that's according to the Dutch Foreign Nationals Employment Act). This made it really tough for them to find a stable job and fully integrate into Dutch society. Employers typically want to hire people for the long term, and all this extra paperwork for a short-term worker wasn't exactly appealing. For them, if someone had to stop working after just 24 weeks, why should they go through all the trouble of getting asylum seekers a work permit?




The petition


The 24-week limit wasn't popular. Many argued it made it nearly impossible for asylum seekers to find a job, and some even argued it went against EU regulations. When Delitelabs and Ben & Jerry's realized that Emrullah would not be able to find work during his asylum process, given that his request had gotten denied due to a small mistake in the application form, they spoke to representatives from Radboud Universiteit. Both partners wanted to understand whether what happened to Emrullah had also happened to other asylum seekers. The university began researching on this topic and found out that indeed it happened to many others. So, in October 2023, they teamed up with the Center for Migration Law and other groups to brainstorm solutions. They brought together experts from different fields to discuss what was getting in the way of asylum seekers finding work and how to fix it (Radboud Universiteit 2023).


After their meeting, they put together a list of demands for the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment: 


1. Scrap or shorten the six-month waiting period; 

2. To abolish the restriction to 24 weeks of work per year because it is contrary to EU law; 

3. Abolish administrative barriers such as applying for a work permit: just as with Ukrainians, simply report the employment to the UWV;

4. To guarantee that work pays off: inform, harmonize and prevent negative incentives.

(Radboud Universiteit 2023)


These calls for change weren't just coming from the CMR, Ben & Jerry's, or Delitelabs, it also got support from other NGOs and interest groups, such as the TENT foundation, Refugee Talent Hub, Refugee Start Force, the UAF, and Vluchtelingenwerk, who all joined the plea (Radboud Universiteit 2023).




For Delitelabs and Ben & Jerry’s, it was extremely important to take action to support and protect newcomers. Our managing director, Hanna Wieten, shares with us how “our [Delitelabs] mission is to empower newcomers to achieve economic and social independence. We do this through entrepreneurship training and programs together with the business community - such as UP Collective which we run in partnership with Ben & Jerry’s. Employment is part of this program, but current regulatory barriers make it very difficult to make this happen for our participants. As such, we believe that waiting for change is not an option, and we are committed to advocating for policy reform to enable greater access and participation for our community”.

 

The ruling 


Finally, on the 29th of November, 2023, the highest administrative body in the Netherlands (known as the Council of State) finally ruled on the 24-weeks regulation. According to the Council, they deemed the rule went against the European Reception Directive, meaning it violated European law (Kroes Advocaten 2024). Hence, the 24-week requirement is now invalid and can no longer be applied (ibid). This means work permits can now be issued for as long as an asylum seeker's residence permit is valid (Kroes Advocaten 2024).




From Personal Struggle to Systemic Reform: The Inspiring Story of Emrullah


Emrullah arrived in The Netherlands in 2018 and was one of the 20,500 new asylum seekers here. Originally from Turkey, with a bachelor's degree in law, circumstances beyond his control forced him to seek asylum. He arrived here with a strong determination to give his life a fresh start.

Immediately after he arrived in the Netherlands, he recognized the importance of integrating into Dutch society. Eager to socialize, network, and learn a new language, he enrolled in various courses, including an entrepreneurship program offered by Delitelabs. As he awaited the outcome of his asylum application, Emrullah sought opportunities to gain work experience. As part of Delitelabs' entrepreneurship program, he was offered a part-time position at Ben & Jerry's Scoop Shop in Rotterdam for three summer months. Despite possessing the necessary permits, such as a BSN number – that allow him to work legally in the Netherlands, securing employment as an asylum seeker proved to be mission impossible.


He shared: “After I got accepted at Ben & Jerry's, their team had to apply to a government agency for permission for me to work, and it took six weeks just to hear back from the organization. Even with a job offer, I needed their approval. At times, it feels like newcomers are perceived as burdens on the system. However, what people may not realize is that back home, we were building futures. For many like myself, if it weren't for the political situation forcing us to leave, we would still be there. Finding a job in The Netherlands wasn't just about money; it was also about contributing to the country that has welcomed me here. It took me three months just to connect with my case manager. I was eager to learn about the process of getting permission to work. Unfortunately, even though my case manager didn't want to discourage me, they explained that the asylum system restricts work opportunities during the application process. Nevertheless, I never gave up and engaged myself in volunteering and sharing my knowledge to support other newcomers in starting their businesses.”

 

Emrullah's experience seeking work authorization, turned into a positive force for change. After experiencing struggles with complicated work permission forms, Ben & Jerry's played a crucial role by advocating for asylum seeker work rights in the Netherlands, even developing a toolkit for employers looking to hire newcomers. “It brings me great satisfaction to know that my challenging situation years ago contributed to the most recent policy changes, making it easier for others seeking asylum to find work. The complexity of procedures discouraged both asylum seekers and employers from pursuing job opportunities. It's no surprise, then, that two and a half years after receiving a residence permit, only 11% of the group of status holders from 2014 received a job offer,” says Emrullah.


It took Emrullah a year and a half to obtain legal status in the Netherlands. Today, he is successfully studying international business administration, with plans to graduate next year. Emrullah remains committed to contributing to the country he now calls home. Additionally, he plans to obtain Dutch citizenship. Through his journey, Emrullah has not only overcome personal challenges but has also paved the way for a more accessible job market for asylum seekers in the Netherlands.


If you would like to gain access to Ben & Jerry’s Toolkit For Employers, please click here.

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