The Netherlands has the perfect combination of work/life balance and an extremely efficient work culture. With its stable growing economy and innovative startup environment (think Booking.com, PicNic or the High Tech Campus), why wouldn’t you want to work here? Unfortunately, as an international student, settling your roots down after your studies can sometimes be quite a challenge if you’re not from the EU or EEA. Though you can apply for the Zoekjaar visa, there is very little support provided for the graduates that do. Here at College Life, we see so many international students full of potential discouraged by the inaccessibility of the Dutch market and want to help.
A Zoekjaar Hoogopgeleiden (orientation year visa) is a year during which non-EU internationals can live and work in the Netherlands without a work permit. It’s a specific type of visa, which depending on your nationality, exempts you from doing any other administrative procedures in order to live here in the Netherlands. With a Zoekjaar visa, internationals have free access to the labour market for up to twelve months after their visa has been granted.
There are no income requirements to qualify for the Zoekjaar visa (orientation year visa). You are free to start a business, become self-employed or get a regular job. Even internships are allowed and do not require registration at a university. However, it is recommended that any internship opportunity you take should be used as a stepping stone towards a more sustainable job opportunity. Your end goal is, after all, to get sponsored by the company once your Zoekjaar visa expires.
The application costs 174 euros (February, 2020). You cannot work in other EU countries with a Zoekjaar visa. You have up to three years after your graduation date to apply for a Zoekjaar visa. Did you know that you can obtain it multiple times? You can apply for a Zoekjaar visa after successfully completing a university degree. However, this program needs to be different from the one you previously completed. A Zoekjaar visa requires you to be self-sustaining. You are not entitled to social security or governmental financial aid here in the Netherlands and it is recommended you get a part-time job to finance your search. Search for a part-time job on College Life Work!
Why does the Zoekjaar exist?
The Zoekjaar is most importantly an initiative from the Dutch government to strengthen its economy by attracting and retaining a skilled and diverse international workforce. The Dutch understand that truly international environments foster growth, productivity and progress. The Zoekjaar visa is an attempt to give international students and graduates the time they need to get started in the Netherlands. It’s an open invitation to make of the Netherlands what you will! The Dutch government has a real desire for young international graduates and talents to stay and explore their opportunities in the Netherlands once they’ve finished their studies and has focused on making the Zoekjaar as attractive as possible: The application fee was lowered by 40% and if you already live in the Netherlands the application process is quite easy.
Why apply for a Zoekjaar visa?
Very rarely are we actually allocated time to breathe. If you’ve gone straight from high school to your bachelor’s and then from your bachelor’s to your master’s and maybe even a PHD, you haven’t really had the time to truly find your own in the job market. Instead of being pushed into jobs you think you’ll like, here you have 12 months to see if living in the Netherlands is right for you. Not only is the Netherlands a hub of talent and technology, but it’s also a center for European innovation. Naturally, there are more than enough opportunities out there with companies looking for young talents who are just starting their careers. A Zoekjaar visa is also a point of entry into an English and international-friendly growing economy. The fact that there are no language or income requirements transforms it into a personal challenge where you can test your resilience and truly push your boundaries.
Now that you know what a Zoekjaar visa is and why applying for one is the personal challenge you've been waiting for, onto the application process. As most administrative procedures in the Netherlands, applying for a Zoekjaar visa is a pretty straightforward process which starts with checking if you meet the requirements!
Requirements and conditions
EU and Swiss citizens do not qualify for a Zoekjaar visa (orientation year visa) as they are allowed to stay and work in the Netherlands under EU law.
First, to qualify for a Zoekjaar visa you cannot have applied for a residence visa on the same basis as the one you are applying for now. Zoekjaar visas are valid for one study or research program. In order to qualify for a second visa, the study or research program has to be different from the one you previously applied with.
You have three years after obtaining your diploma or degree to apply for a Zoekjaar visa. Only the following programs are eligible:
- Accredited bachelor's or master's programs in the Netherlands
- Post-master's programs of at least an academic year (a minimum of 10 months) in the Netherlands
- Studies in relation to the Cultural Policy Act
- Studies that are offered by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding its development cooperation policy
- Higher education programs designated by Ministerial Decree
- Scientific research for which you obtained a residence permit in the Netherlands for aforementioned research according to EU Directive 2005/71/EC, EU Directive 2016/801, or as a highly skilled migrant
- Master's or post-master's, or doctoral programs at a designated international educational institution abroad (at time of your graduation). Designated international institutions are establishments which are in the top 200 of either the general ranking lists or subject ranking lists of the following websites: Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings, Academic Ranking of World Universities
Students having obtained their bachelor’s abroad do NOT qualify for the Zoekjaar visa.
One of the following additional conditions needs to be met by graduates having obtained their degree abroad:
- A minimum score of 6.0 for the International English Language Testing System. Both versions of the IELTS (academic and general training) qualify.
- A comparable minimum score in an English language test set out in the Code of Conduct for international students in Dutch higher education
- A diploma, certificate or document as meant in Article 2.3.1 of the Civic Integration Decree
- A master's, post-master's or doctoral program in English or Dutch
The Zoekjaar application process
The application process differs depending on two conditions: whether the Netherlands is your primary place of residence and if you're applying with a Dutch diploma.
Studying while living in the Netherlands
If you’re already studying here in the Netherlands and are considered a resident of the Netherlands when applying, the application process is a little bit easier. Since you are registered at the BRP and have a BSN, you can use your Digid to complete your application. Don’t have a Digid? Apply for one on the Digid website. It’s a fairly short process that also gives you access to applications for allowances. Be sure to activate the two-step sms verification process. Your application should be processed within 3 weeks.
Please make sure that at time of application, you haven’t been out of the Netherlands for more than 6 months. After 6 months outside of the country, it is no longer considered your primary place of residence and you no longer qualify for the online application process.
Studying and/or living outside of the Netherlands
If the Netherlands is not your primary place of residence and you do not have a BSN number, the application process is a little bit longer. The ISN or Immigration and Naturalization Service recommend starting your application at least 3 months in advance if you are applying from abroad. In case you are applying from the Netherlands, you may do so at least 1 month in advance. You can apply at the nearest Dutch embassy or consulate. Depending on your nationality, you may need a provisional residence permit (MVV) in addition to the Zoekjaar visa.
Citizens of the following countries are exempt from the MVV requirement: Australia, Canada, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, South Korea or the USA. You are also exempt from the MVV requirement if you possess either a long-term residence permit or have resided in another EU member state for over 18 months with a Blue Card.
Any foreign diplomas must be evaluated by Nuffic and all documents must be legalized and translated into either Dutch, English, French or German.
Be sure to double even triple-check you meet the Zoekjaar visa requirement before sending in your application as the fee is non-refundable.
Zoekjaar Next Steps
So, you've filled in and submitted your application and are waiting anxiously for an update. What is there left to do except for wait? Do some research, of course! Deciding to stay in the Netherlands for an extra year in hopes of finding your path comes with a mix of unexpected and predictable challenges. Not only should you be well informed as to what you're signing up for but you should also be aware of what your options are once your Zoekjaar is over. Don't worry! We've got you covered.
Keep in mind that the Zoekjaar visa (orientation year visa) requires you to be fully autonomous and self-sufficient. Though you may qualify for some allowances such as the housing or insurance allowance, a Zoekjaar visa requires stable and sustainable financial autonomy. Budgeting will be your best friend and here are the tools to help you get by.
Another major challenge you’ll face at the beginning of your Zoekjaar is finding housing. For those of you already in the Netherlands, you’re probably familiar with the precariousness of housing for students and recent graduates. Landlords might not be that open to renting out their apartment to an unemployed graduate so start searching ahead of time. Check out our guide to student housing.
Finding a job
Finding a job can also be quite difficult. Though the job market here in the Netherlands is extremely inviting and open to internationals, there are still a lot of hurdles to jump before securing your dream position. Dutch isn’t required but basic knowledge is recommended, as it can be seen as a key asset. Keep in mind that you’re competing against Dutch students and EU nationals who are significantly easier to higher for companies as they don’t require work permits or visas. Now, you shouldn’t let this discourage you but instead motivate your search for that perfect internship or job! Look at growing and developing industries. Check out College Life Work for some international friendly companies or our guide to entry-level jobs to nail your job search. College Life Work is the only platform offering vacancies in the Netherlands open to non-Dutch students and graduates. There are no languages requirements expected of you as well as a selection of companies actively searching to hire international graduates.
Becoming a highly skilled migrant
The Zoekjaar is actually quite comparable to the highly skilled migrant residence permit. If you manage to find a job at the end of your Zoekjaar and want to stay in the Netherlands, a logical next step is to apply for the highly skilled migrant status. Upon completion of a Zoekjaar, you have the added bonus of having a reduced minimum salary in order to qualify as a highly skilled migrant. This means that you can be hired as a highly skilled migrant from a minimum gross salary of 2,423 euros per month instead of €3,381 (under 30) or €4,612 (over 30).
As well as the IND website, here are some additional resources that should help clarify additional questions you might have: