Access to the labour market


Country Report: Access to the labour market Last updated: 30/04/24


Dutch Council for Refugees Visit Website

The Aliens Labour Act and other regulations lay down the rules regarding access to the labour market for asylum seekers. Before the asylum seeker can start working, the employer must request an employment-licence for asylum seekers (tewerkstellingsvergunning). To acquire an employment-licence the asylum seeker must fulfil the following cumulative conditions:[1]

  • The asylum application has been lodged at least 6 months before and is still pending a (final) decision;
  • The asylum seeker is staying legally in the Netherlands on the basis of Article 8(f) or (h) of the Aliens Act;
  • The asylum seeker is provided reception conditions as they come within the scope of RVA, or under the responsibility of Nidos;
  • The intended work is conducted under general labour market conditions;
  • The employer submits a copy of the “W document” (identity card).

Despite the fact that Dutch legislation provides for access to the labour market to asylum seekers,[2] in practice, it is hard for an asylum seeker to find a job. However, as of 2023, this seems to be slowly changing. Due to factors such as a lack of labour forces and long waiting times in the reception centres, there is an increasing attention to early access to work for asylum seekers in the Netherlands. On behalf of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, Regioplan researched the legal and practical barriers for asylum seekers to access the labour market.[3] Regioplan concluded that the limitation allowing asylum seekers to work only 24 weeks per year (in effect from 1998 to 2023)[4] was the primary obstacle, along with the employment-licence and the employers’ unfamiliarity with the application procedure. Additionally, it often takes months for asylum seekers to register in the Municipal Personal Records Database (BRP), which is necessary to open a bank account in order to receive wages and to pay taxes. Other identified barriers include a lack of support for job placement, limited knowledge of the Dutch language, refugee-related psychological problems and cultural differences. Regioplan states that most of these obstacles fall within the sphere of influence of the central government, making it their responsibility to take action.[5] In response to this report, the minister indicated a willingness to explore possible solutions. Unfortunately, due to the current political situation and the outgoing government, this issue is on hold.[6]

Nevertheless, by the end of 2023 one of the key barriers to effective access to work for asylum seekers was removed. Until then, asylum seekers in the Netherlands were only allowed to work 24 weeks per year. As a result, it was not attractive for employers to hire an asylum seeker. However, in November 2023, the Council of State determined in an onward appeal that this time restriction is contrary to Article 15 of the Reception Directive[7]. This means that the provision of the 24-week limitation is null and void, and the Dutch government must adjust its policy. Since this ruling, asylum seekers with a valid employment-licence are allowed to work as long as their asylum procedure is ongoing and they have lawful residence in the Netherlands. The legal provision has not been updated yet as of March 2024.

Despite this significant breakthrough, employers still face administrative hurdles because a valid employment-licence is still required. The employer applies for the licence. It is valid specifically for the employee, the nature of the work the employee will perform and the place where it will be performed. Since the abolition of the 24-weeks limitation, the employment-licence remains valid until the asylum seeker receives a permit or has exhausted all legal remedies. The procedure for applying for an employment licence at the Dutch Employees Insurance Agency takes in practice about  2 weeks, which is within the time limit foreseen in law.[8] Moreover, although access to the labour market is granted 6 months after the application has been lodged, before the employer can apply for the employment-licence, a declaration of reception must be obtained. Therefore, the time for obtaining the declaration of reception should be added to the waiting period before employment. In conclusion, the moment the asylum seeker has the right to perform paid labour differs significantly from the moment they can in fact exercise it.

If asylum seekers are employed and stay in the reception facility arranged by the COA, they should contribute a certain amount of money to the accommodation costs, regardless of how little or how much they ear. Asylum seekers are allowed to keep 25% of their income with a maximum of € 249 per month.[9] In case their monthly income exceeds the required contribution to accommodation costs, they can keep any surplus income.[10] This depends on how much they earn and it can never exceed the economic value of the accommodation facilities. Once an asylum seeker surpasses such threshold, Another issue that arises is that beneficiaries of international protection receive the reclamation by the COA after they have been housed in a municipality. As a result, these beneficiaries start with a debt to the COA.

Good practices

A good practice is the “Meedoenbalies” (Participation Desks) established by the COA in collaboration with the Association of Dutch Volunteer Organizations (Vereniging Nederlandse Organisaties Vrijwilligerswerk (NOV). Asylum seekers and refugees in reception centres can register at a Meedoenbalie for activities such as volunteering, sports, recreation, and paid employment. The goal is to enable people to participate in society, as this improves the well-being and health of the residents. Additionally, it helps them enhance their knowledge of the Dutch language and culture, gain work experience, and interact with Dutch citizens. This, in turn, may contribute to increasing support for newcomers in society. Out of nearly 180 COA locations, 38 have a Meedoenbalie, and the COA aims to expand this to at least 60 locations. According to the Ministry of Social Affairs, more than 56,000 matches have already been made.[11]

Another good practice is the platform RefugeeWork. This initiative was launched by the Dutch Council for Refugees in collaboration with the Start Foundation. RefugeeWork is a national platform that connects employers with refugees by making matches based on skills. On this platform, asylum seekers, refugees, and Ukrainians can register. In addition to providing practical information for employers and job seekers, a guidance tool is being developed and will be added to the platform in the future. RefugeeWork also allows municipalities and other social organisations to join.[12]

Voluntary Work

Asylum seekers are also allowed to take part in voluntary work. This is possible from the moment the asylum application has been lodged. The employer needs a “volunteer’s declaration” form from the Dutch Employees Insurance Agency. Work usually needs to be unpaid, non-profit and of social value.[13] A few years ago the government simplified the procedure to acquire a volunteering permit. Since then, 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.[14]

Internships for minors

Minor asylum seekers are allowed to do an internship when this is an obligatory part of their study path. The rules explained above (after six months in procedure and with a permit (“tewerkstellingsvergunning”) do not apply to them. The internship is allowed directly after lodging the asylum application and a permit is not required.[15]




[1] Article 6.2 Aliens Labour Decree and paragraph 8.2 Annex I Aliens Act Implementing Regulation 2022.

[2] Article 6.2 Aliens Labour Decree and paragraph 8.2 Annex I Aliens Act Implementing Regulation 2022.

[3] Regioplan, Belemmeringen asielzoekers bij het toetreden tot de arbeidsmarkt, 11 April 2023, available in Dutch at:

[4] See previous updates to this country report available at:

[5] Regioplan, Belemmeringen asielzoekers bij het toetreden tot de arbeidsmarkt, 11 April 2023, available in Dutch at:, 1.

[6] Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, KST 29544, nr. 1213, 14 July 2023.

[7] Council of State, ECLI:NL:RVS:2023:4418, 29 November 2023, available in Dutch at:

[8] Article 6 Aliens Labour Act.

[9] Article 5, lid 3 Reba 2008 jo. article 31, lid 2 sub n Participation Act.

[10] Article 5(4) Regeling eigen bijdrage asielzoekers met inkomen (Reba).

[11] Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, KST 32824, nr. 389, 11 July 2023 and the COA website:

[12] Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, KST 32824, nr. 370, 28 September 2022 and the RefugeeWork website:

[13] Article 1a(b) Aliens Labour Decree.

[14] Paragraph 3.6 Annex I Aliens Act Implementing Regulation 2022.

[15] Article 3.2 Aliens Labour Decree.

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