Zoekjaar: license to work
January 20, 2011 7 Comments
It was early spring last year when I first heard about zoekjaar, from a friend whom I accidentally met near the Maastricht University library.
Apparently he had also found out about it from a friend. The term zoekjaar is a combination of the two Dutch words: zoek (search) and jaar (year). As my friend explained to me in his thick Chinese accent, “Zoekjaar is a license to look for work in the Netherlands for one year.”
The funny thing is that I did not have any interest at first to follow in my friend’s footsteps because I was planning to go back to my home country Indonesia after completing my Masters study in Media Culture.
But the elders of my family advised me otherwise. Working as a highly-skilled migrant would give me an international experience and be a great asset for my future, they said.
With these benefits in mind, I decided to inquire at Maastricht University’s visa office about the application procedure for zoekjaar. I was told to download the appropriate application form from the Netherlands immigration office (IND) website.
The next thing I was to do was set up a meeting at the IND office in Eindhoven. The meeting itself was quite brief. Basically I had to bring the completed form, pay EUR 331 for registration costs and get my passport stamped. The stamp was important because it was the only proof that I was staying legally in the Netherlands while waiting for my zoekjaar permit. I was told to carry my passport everywhere with me.
I found the application procedure simple but time consuming. It took two months for the letter of approval to finally arrive.
Without that letter of approval I was not allowed to sign any labour contract with any company in the Netherlands.
Looking for work
Sadly when it comes to finding work in Netherlands, things are not that simple. I don’t know any other town than Maastricht, where most job vacancies are in the fields of science, business and economics.
Maastricht University with its Medicine & Life Science programme is very active in research and offers many vacancies, but having graduated last July from the media culture programme at the Faculty of Arts and Social Science, I discovered that there were less opportunities for jobs in my area of specialisation.
I looked through websites such as www.iamexpat.nl and visited several work agencies in Maastricht but always received the same answer: “If you do not speak Dutch then there is nothing available.”
The only exception was work agency FlexPoint which seemed to favour French speakers to native Dutch.
Within a week of job searching I came to realise that the only way I could find a job in the Netherlands was to learn another foreign language besides English.
So besides writing application letters and keeping my eyes open for every job available, that is what I am currently doing: learning Dutch.
Even though I highly doubt that I will ever be able to speak Dutch fluently, at least “gratis” will not be the only Dutch word I know. Meanwhile, I must learn to live on a strict budget, since I can only rely on the financial support of my family back home.
My current plan: small realistic steps
Looking back I regret not having started to plan my zoekjaar months ahead before graduation. I could learned another language besides my broken English. I could have applied for an internship and later perhaps been hired by the company, like two Indonesian friends of mine.
After completing a Basic Level Dutch course last December, I will enroll for the next level starting in February, and I will apply for an unpaid internship if that is what it takes.
For the time being, I have set aside my dream of working for a top notch media company.
Moreover, I have decided to expand my search area. Maastricht is surely beautiful, and the current object of my affection lives here, yes, but in the field of work I am hoping for, I am sorry to report that it is not a promising place.
By Frieda Gultom
Frieda Gultom is an Indonesian graduate from Maastricht University currently living in the Netherlands on a “zoekjaar” permit.