Access to the labour market


Country Report: Access to the labour market Last updated: 08/04/22


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The rights and duties for beneficiaries with regard to employment are included in the Aliens Labour Act.[1] This law is based on international and European legislation.[2] In the Netherlands, refugees and subsidiary protection beneficiaries with a residence permit have free access to the Dutch labour market as soon as they receive their residence permit. The identification card (W-document) must contain a notification stating: “free access to the labour market, no work permit required” (arbeid vrij toegestaan, tewerkstellingsvergunning niet vereist). Free access means in this context: free access to employment, the right to entrepreneurship, to follow an internship or to do voluntary work. There is no work permit or a so-called “volunteer’s declaration” required. Dutch law makes no distinction between refugees or subsidiary protection beneficiaries.

According to several studies, the position of beneficiaries of international protection on the Dutch labour market is very vulnerable, with limited improvements made through time.[3] Although legal access to labour participation is granted, the effective access is limited as they face practical obstacles, such as psychological and physical distress, lack of documentation proving qualifications, lack of a social network, low educational levels, lack of language proficiency, etc. Therefore, beneficiaries are in a more disadvantageous position than other immigrants or Dutch nationals.[4] By the end of 2020, 29.6% of the beneficiaries that arrived since 2014 in the Netherlands found work. In June 2020, the percentage registered was only 27.9% due to the pandemic. The increase in the second part of 2020 shows that beneficiaries slowly have found their way back to the Dutch labour market, despite the smaller amount of available participation- and labour places and less guidance by the municipality during the pandemic.[5] Furthermore, research demonstrates an upcoming trend where municipalities support beneficiaries in maintaining their jobs; one third of the municipalities continue their guidance after beneficiaries started a job.[6]

The Dutch government applies a hybrid approach to employment-related support measures, by combining generic measures for migrants with specific tailored measures to beneficiaries. Examples are integration courses, assistance in obtaining recognition of professional qualifications and housing assistance.[7] Employment services find their legal basis in the Participation Act (Participatiewet).[8] For asylum seekers the government also tends to improve the labour participation by focussing on participation at an earlier stage, i.e. while people are still in an AZC.

An example of this is the so-called ‘screening and matching’ process, during which the COA conducts a screening of labour skills and finds a matching municipality for housing in order to increase job opportunities. Furthermore, COA provides language classes for asylum seekers who are likely to receive international protection (at this moment only for Syrians, Eritreans, Turks, Yemeni and stateless persons).[9] Another example is that the government simplified the procedure to acquire a volunteering permit. Nowadays, an asylum seeker can start its voluntary work as soon as the Employee Insurance Agency confirmed the application for a volunteering permit done by the employer.[10]

For many job opportunities, professional qualifications are required. In order to obtain recognition of these qualifications, the Cooperation Organisation for Vocational Education, Training and the Labour Market (Stichting Samenwerking Beroepsonderwijs BedrijfslevenSBB) jointly compare foreign diplomas with the Dutch educational system. In case a refugee follows a compulsory Dutch integration course, this is provided for free. The main obstacle is that many refugees lack any credible documents to prove their qualifications. Furthermore, a low educational level form impede access to language courses or vocational educational training.[11]

[1] Aliens Labour Act.

[2] See Articles 17, 18, 19 and 24 Refugee Convention, Article 6 ICESCR, Article 26(1) recast Qualification Directive, Article 14 Family Reunification Directive, Article 1 European Social Charter, etc.

[3] See e.g. Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR), Geen tijd te verliezen: van opvang naar integratie van asielmigranten, December 2015 and CBS, Uit de startblokken, April 2018; SER, Integratie door werk. Meer kansen op werk voor nieuwkomers, May 2019, available in Dutch at:; KIS and Divosa, Monitor gemeentelijk beleid arbeidstoeleiding vluchtelingen 2020, November 2020, available in Dutch at:

[4] European Migration Network (EMN), The integration of beneficiaries of international / humanitarian protection into the Dutch labour market: Policies and good practices, February 2016, available at:, 3.

[5] KIS and Divosa, Monitor gemeentelijk beleid arbeidstoeleiding vluchtelingen 2021, October 2021, available in Dutch at:

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, 4.

[8]  Wet van 9 oktober 2003, houdende vaststelling van een wet inzake ondersteuning bij arbeidsinschakeling en verlening van bijstand door gemeenten (Wet werk en bijstand), available in Dutch at: .

[9] Ministry of Social Affairs, KST 32 824, nr. 303, 4.

[10] Annex I, para 7bis Aliens Act Implementing Regulation.

[11] EMN, The integration of beneficiaries of international / humanitarian protection into the Dutch labour market: Policies and good practices, February 2016, 4.

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation