Visa Advice: An Orientation Year in the Netherlands

Learn more about the Dutch visa for highly-educated persons and what attaining it entails.

Courtesy of Agus Dietrich.

There are many reasons to move to the Netherlands and, depending on your circumstances, many ways to go about it. Some people move from another EU country to the Netherlands, requiring little more than their passport to set up permanent residence. If you want to come to the Netherlands from outside the EU region, it goes without saying that various permits and visas are needed.

Then, there is also the consideration of uprooting your entire life. What if you go to the effort of emigrating to the Netherlands only to find that living there wasn’t for you after all?

If you have graduated from third-level education within the past three years, there might be a solution which would allow you to try on the Netherlands for size before making any kind of permanent leap – the “orientation year for highly educated persons” visa.

The Orientation Year for Highly Educated Persons

With their sights set high, the Dutch government offers a special opportunity to global graduates with high levels of education – an orientation year in the Netherlands. This one year visa is available to recent graduates and offers the possibility of a zoekjaar, which literally translates as a “search year”. This gives one orientation year so that you can live and work in the Netherlands without restriction.

What does “highly educated” mean?

This is where we begin to get to the nitty-gritty. Indeed, “highly educated” is quite a broad term. But for the purposes of the orientation year visa, the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) – who grand the visa – have a long list of applicable study and accredited educational programmes. However, in general terms, you are eligible to apply for this orientation year visa if you have:

  • attained a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or postdoctoral programme (PhD) in the Netherlands,
  • completed at least one academic year of a PhD programme in the Netherlands,
  • graduated from a master’s degree or PhD programme from an approved institution outside the Netherlands,
  • graduated from an Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree (EMJMD) programme,
  • completed scientific research in the Netherlands.

Who can qualify for the orientation year visa?

In order to qualify for a visa for an orientation year in the Netherlands, there are of course a number of conditions beyond just being an appropriate graduate. In addition to having the requisite qualifications, a valid passport and not being a threat to national security, the following criteria must be met:

  • You must have completed your university study, PhD or scientific research within the past 3 years.
  • You must have completed your bachelor’s, master’s or postdoctoral programme in English or Dutch, or have achieved a score of 6.0 or above on the International English Language Testing System (or comparable).
  • Your international qualification must be from a university ranked among the top 200 on either the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the QS World University Rankings or the Academic Ranking of World Universities.

It’s worth noting that you can avail of this type of visa in the Netherlands more than once. If you have already concluded an orientation year but, at a later point, go on to complete further education that meets the above criteria, there is no restriction on applying for a subsequent orientation year visa.

What does the orientation year visa allow?

During the orientation year, you will be granted open access to the Dutch labour market. In other words, you will not need a work permit in order to get a job. Without restriction, you can accept any employment or internship position, work as a freelancer, or even start your own business. The best part is that your family members can also work during this time without any restrictions.

How to Apply for the Orientation Year Visa

In order to apply for an orientation year visa, you must first start the Entry and Residence Procedure (TEV) at a Dutch embassy or consulate in your own country. Depending on your nationality, you will be applying for the initial MVV (or machtiging tot voorlopig verblijf in Dutch) entrance permit alongside the orientation year’s visa. As mentioned, this application must happen within three years of graduating.

If any supporting documents you are providing with your application form are in a language other than Dutch, English, German or French, these must be translated and legalised in your country of origin. There is an application fee which must be paid in advance regardless of the outcome of your application. With the orientation year visa, you won’t have to submit any proof of your financial situation. Although you will have to sustain yourself during this year, you won’t have to show how you intend to do so in advance.

It may be the case that you are a already living in the Netherlands. If you have a Dutch social security number (BSN) and a DigiD, you can apply for the orientation year online via the IND website. This speeds up the process significantly.

Awaiting the Outcome

Courtesy of Dayne Topkin.

On the assumption that your application is correct and no amendments or adjustments are needed, the IND aims to have a decision within 90 days if you are applying from abroad. If your application is successful, your orientation year will begin on the day you arrive in the Netherlands.

If you are already living in the Netherlands and applied for the orientation year visa online, you can potentially have a response from the IND within two weeks. You will then be invited to make an appointment with them directly to collect your visa. If you have a valid Dutch residence permit for the purposes of scientific research when you apply, the orientation year visa will begin after that employment contract ends.

If you are in the Netherlands on a study visa, your 12-month orientation allowance begins on the visa application date, regardless of whether your current visa is still valid or not. If not planned correctly, this could significantly reduce your stay in the Netherlands.

Benefits of the Orientation Year Visa

After your orientation year, it may then be possible to attain a highly skilled migrant visa if you want to extend your stay on a more permanent basis. This is something your employer must apply for on your behalf. There is a minimum earning requirement if you stay in the Netherlands under this type of visa. However, if you have completed your orientation year in the Netherlands, the minimum earning requirement is quite a bit lower giving the orientation visa added value in the long term.

The aim of this type of visa, at least from the perspective of the Dutch government, is to attract as many highly educated people to the country as possible. But it also gives recent high-level graduates an opportunity to try the Netherlands before deciding to move there permanently. This means that if you qualify for the orientation year visa, you can take your time to find your feet in the Netherlands, get to know the labour landscape and “test-drive” your potential new life.

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