Access to the labour market



Dutch Council for Refugees

Despite the fact that Dutch legislation provides for access to the labour market to asylum seekers,1 in practice, it is extremely hard for an asylum seeker to find a job. Employers are not eager to contract an asylum seeker due the administrative hurdles and the supply on the labour market.

The Aliens Labour Act and other regulations lay down the rules regarding access to the labour market for asylum seekers. Despite having the right to work, asylum seekers can only work limited time, namely a maximum of 24 weeks each 12 months. Before the asylum seeker can start working, the employer must request an employment-license for asylum seekers (tewerkstellingsvergunning). To acquire an employment-license the asylum seeker must fulfil certain conditions:2

  • The asylum application has been lodged at least six months before and is still pending  a (final) decision, and;

  • The asylum seeker is staying legally in the Netherlands on the basis of Article 8, under (f) or (h) of the Aliens  Act, and;

  • The asylum seeker is provided reception conditions as they come within the scope of the 2005 Regulation on benefits for asylum seekers, the Regulation on Reception for asylum seekers, or under the responsibility of NIDOS, and;

  • The asylum seeker does not exceed the maximum time limit of employment (24 weeks per 12 months), and;

  • The intended work is conducted under general labour market conditions, and;

  • The employer submits a copy of the W-document (identity card).3

The procedure to apply for an employment license in practice takes no longer than two weeks. If the asylum seeker stays in the reception facility arranged by the COA for the reception of asylum seekers, they should contribute a certain amount of money to the accommodation costs. This depends on how much they have earned and it can never exceed the economic value of the accommodation facilities. Besides that, the financial allowance can be withdrawn. Asylum seekers are also allowed to do internships or voluntary work.

In practice, asylum seekers encounter obstacles in relation to administrative hurdles. The 'work permit procedure' for paid labour is an illustrative example of this. An asylum seeker in the Netherlands is allowed to perform paid labour if he or she hands in a copy of a work permit. The employer concerned can apply for a work permit on the condition that at the moment of application, the asylum application has been lodged at least six months before and is still pending a (final) decision. The application procedure at the Netherlands Employees Insurance Agency can take up to two weeks.4 Before the employer can apply for the work permit, however, a declaration of reception must be obtained. So next to total six and a half months (six months in procedure + two weeks for the work permit), the time for obtaining the declaration of reception should be added. In conclusion, the moment the asylum seeker has the right to perform paid labour differs significantly from the moment the asylum seeker can factually exercise its right to work.

  • 1. Article 2(a)(1) first sentence and under a, b and c Buwav. (Decree on how to implement the Aliens Labour Act).
  • 2. Article 2 under a Buwav.
  • 3. During their lawful stay in the Netherlands, asylum seekers receive an identity card, a so called W-document, pending their procedure.
  • 4. Article 6 Labour Act for Aliens.

About AIDA

The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) is a database managed by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), containing information on asylum procedures, reception conditions, detenti