The Netherlands should strengthen policies to attract and retain migrant skilled workers


06/09/2016 - The Netherlands should improve its policies to attract and retain highly skilled migrants in order to address labour shortages and strengthen its position as a knowledge-based economy, according to a new OECD report.


Recruiting Immigrant Workers: The Netherlands says that future demand for skilled workers is set to exceed domestic supply over the next decade. The share of tertiary educated among people aged 25-64 was one of the highest among OECD countries in 2000 but has grown little since.


Labour migration from non-EU countries is low compared to other categories of migration, notably the free movement of EU citizens. In 2013, non-EU labour migrants accounted for only 9% of the 100 000 persons who migrated permanently to the Netherlands, higher than in France and Germany but below the European average.


The largest scheme for highly skilled migrants, the so-called “knowledge migrants” (kennismigranten), successfully attracts around 7 000 skilled non-EU migrants per year. Yet only about 20% of them work in the nine strategically important sectors fostered by Dutch economic policy. Knowledge migrants are also concentrated in the central provinces North and South Holland; other regions attract only a few of them.


Knowledge migrants aged 30 or above are admitted if the salary they are offered by a Dutch employer exceeds 120% of the average gross income. While this requirement is simple and transparent, it is very restrictive for some groups of applicants. Because women still tend to earn less than men on average, fewer of them command salaries above the threshold: women have to reach the top 12% of their wage distribution – versus 31% for men – to pass the requirement for knowledge migrants over age 30. This may explain why men accounted for 77% of all knowledge migrants admitted up to 2014, says the report.


Employers who are recognised by Dutch immigration authorities can recruit more easily from abroad. This has reduced the administrative burden and processing times. However, the responsibilities of a recognised sponsor can be daunting for small and medium-sized enterprises that lack the necessary legal expertise and fear incurring high fines. Public authorities should offer more legal assistance to this type of employer so that they too can benefit from skilled labour migration.


Retention rates of knowledge migrants can be further improved if spouses had better opportunities in the Dutch labour market, the OECD review shows. International students with early labour market experience, acquired through internships and ideally related to the field of study, are more likely to stay in the Netherlands after graduation.


The report recommends that the Netherlands:


Strengthen the capacity of the system to respond to the specific needs of the economy


  • Apply lower salary requirements for knowledge migrants who work in top sectors or in peripheral regions.
  • For strongly demanded occupations with salaries below the salary requirement, consider creating a list of shortage occupations giving easier access to the Dutch labour market.


Reinforce efforts to retain highly skilled labour migrants and international students


  • Promote local employer networks through which employers can arrange job offers for spouses and partners of labour migrants.
  • Give international students greater incentives to attend Dutch language courses and to gain local work experience.


Better promote the Netherlands as a destination for skilled labour migrants


  • Strengthen access to and quality of online information on labour migration schemes, also in English and other foreign languages.
  • Explore the possibility, e.g. through a pilot scheme, of a job search year that is open not only to recent but also to older international graduates of Dutch or certain foreign universities.


The report is available at:


For comment or further information, journalists should contact Theodora Xenogiani or Friedrich Poeschel of the OECD’s Migration Division.


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