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Immigration to the Netherlands and Amsterdam


Immigration = Influx from abroad


What do I understand by 'migrants' and what kind of migrants do I distinguish


I. The concept of migrant


In this research I look at migration/migrants by nationality .

  • A distinction is made between domestic and foreign migration. Domestic migration consists of settlers in Amsterdam from the Netherlands (this also includes refugees who settle in Amsterdam from an asylum seekers' center in the Netherlands) and departures from Amsterdam to the rest of the Netherlands (this also includes people with a foreign nationality who settle elsewhere in the Netherlands from Amsterdam).

  • In this definition, people with Dutch nationality can therefore also be part of the foreign migration: Dutch people who have lived abroad and are now coming to live in Amsterdam (again).

  • So I am not looking at migration to country of origin. So, for example, people with Indian nationality who move from London to Amsterdam because of Brexit, are listed under their Indian nationality in this study, so not as moving from the UK. I do this because the residence status in the Netherlands/Amsterdam depends on the nationality, not on the country of origin. And the residence status strongly determines the possibilities to settle in Amsterdam and possibly stay here.

  • A person is therefore a migrant if he or she settles in Amsterdam from abroad. That is therefore a different definition of the term 'migrant' , whereby one or two parents were born abroad. (See also the recent discussion about this CBS definition in NRC 28-02-2022, among others).
    Where one was born and what the background of the parents is, is not important for my research in the first place; this concerns the possibility of entering and staying, which is primarily dependent on the residence status, i.e. nationality.
    However, the background of the parents can play a role in coming and staying/going. If one of the migrant's parents still has a (family or acquaintance) network in Amsterdam, we see that this can make a big difference to the migrant's position.
    For example, we saw in the documentary (See under the chapter HOME) that a South African/American couple rented an entire building in De Pijp through family/acquaintances for 1600 euros/month instead of the 2500-4000 euros/month that it would cost through a real estate agent.
    In a general sense, we speak of chain migration when a migrant is received in a foreign city by acquaintances/family and subsequently receives relatives again.

    But it can also make a difference for the position of young people who were born here whether the parents come from abroad or were born and raised here. After all, both the labor market and the housing market have many informal circuits, where you only enter with an extensive local network and the necessary knowledge.


WRR report 103 “Living together in diversity; policy for the migration society” by the end of 2020.



II. Classification of migrants and residence status


The following, more emotional terms are often used in popular parlance for the recent large influx of migrants into Amsterdam:

The ' international '. Is English-speaking, is young and hip, sometimes earns well but not always and, according to a number of Amsterdam political parties, must be involved in Amsterdam society. This includes students and knowledge workers; migrant workers do not.

The ' expat '. Is English-speaking, earns very well, buys a house but eventually moves back or continues. Students are not covered by this and neither are most knowledge workers.


A Classification according to whether or not from the European Union.


EU citizens (including Norway, Iceland and Switzerland) can reside here freely and indefinitely.

Non-EU citizens ; citizens from outside the EU need a residence permit, which is subject to various procedures. Recently, citizens from Great Britain also need special papers.


Residential status. Regulations for Non-EU Citizens

The IND, the Immigration & Naturalization Service, plays a leading role in this. In principle, citizens from outside the EU who want to stay here longer than 90 days need a residence permit. This must be requested from the IND.


The figures for the Netherlands over the last 3 years (From the 2021 Annual Report of the IND)


Family migration       2019         2020          2021   top 3: India, Turkey, Syria

Provided                 40.320        32.460        39,580


students                   2019         2020          2021   top 3: China, India, USA

Provided                 20,630        12,640        20,600


Knowledge & Talent (EU Blue Card , highly skilled migrant, researcher, doctor in training, etc.)

                                2019         2020          2021   top 3: India, China, Turkey

Provided                21.390      13.760        21,580

Start-Ups                2019         2020          2021   top 3: India, Iran, Russia

Provided                   140          120           100


Migrant workers (salaried employment, seasonal labour, etc.)

                            2019         2020          2021   top 3: China, US, India

Provided            3,610         2,600         2.810



Special arrangements will apply now and in the coming years for non-EU citizens who have moved from England to the Netherlands because of Brexit. In the coming years they will be treated more or less as EU citizens.

Blue Card

Following the American example of the Green Card, Europe has had the so-called Blue Card since 2009, a work and residence permit for highly skilled labor migrants. Each EU country determines itself how many Blue Cards it issues.

In the Dutch interpretation of the Blue Card, an employer recognized by the IND must apply for a work and residence permit for an employee. There is a salary criterion, depending on my age (below or above 30 years); roughly 65,000 – 75,000 euros gross salary per year.  In addition to the Blue Card, there are several other schemes for highly skilled migrants; these are small in size.


Search visa

A residence permit for highly educated people who do not have an employer and who are allowed to look for work for a year. Meant to retain talent. You can obtain a Master's degree after a 1-year UvA if you start a company or are looking for a job.


Refugees, asylum procedure and status holders


People also enter the Netherlands as refugees. They are by definition from outside the EU.

They flee their country because of war, human rights violations, persecution or other reasons. In the Netherlands they can apply for asylum; then they arrive at an asylum seekers' center, an asylum seekers' centre. There they have to go through an asylum procedure, in which it is determined whether or not they are allowed to stay here. Those who are allowed to stay will receive a temporary residence status, in principle for 5 years. They are called status holders .


The Netherlands has made agreements within the EU that, in principle, refugees must apply for asylum in the first EU country where they arrive. Some of the refugees are therefore sent back to another EU country. In addition, the Netherlands uses a list of “Safe Countries”; refugees from these countries are in principle rejected.


                    2018         2019          2020          2021

To request asylum       30,380        29.435        19.132         36,647




The number of asylum seekers who are granted a (temporary!) residence status fluctuates quite a bit. Because the processing of asylum applications is lagging behind enormously, no recent figures are available. In 2019, about 30% of asylum applications were granted ; 30% were rejected or withdrawn and of the remaining 40% it was determined that another EU country should handle the application. (Source: Veeldelijk-vragen /asiel-vragenen-veelvragen)


Asylum seekers and status holders in Amsterdam

In recent years, Amsterdam had only one asylum seekers' center, the former ALO in New West.

Since 2021, new asylum seekers have been received again; At the beginning of March 2022, Amsterdam will have 2000 places for asylum seekers. Some hotels (Stay Okay on Kloveniersburgwal and A&O Hostel in Southeast) have been temporarily equipped for this purpose. A 'permanent' asylum seekers' center in the Houthavens must be completed by the end of 2023.


According to government guidelines, every municipality must offer a number of status holders housing each year. In practice, this is extremely difficult, especially because the number of social rental homes in the Netherlands has been reduced significantly in recent decades.


In collaboration with several housing associations, Amsterdam has set up a number of temporary housing projects for (young) status holders in recent years, where they live together with young people/students. Such as De Key's Startblok Riekerhaven and the 2nd phase vml. Alliance ACTA Building. Existing buildings were also transformed into temporary housing for beneficiaries and young people/students and housing was allocated to beneficiaries in the regular social stock.

In the first half of 2022, Amsterdam must accommodate nearly 500 status holders. In the current housing crisis an almost impossible task. The result is that status holders are staying longer in an asylum seekers' center; at the beginning of 2022, approximately 11,000 status holders stayed in an asylum seekers' center.

Partly because of this reason, 200 extra places were created in the former ALO in Nieuw West in 2020 for status holders, people who, in principle, should no longer live in an asylum seekers' center but were housed here pending a home in Amsterdam.

Due to the war in Ukraine, a large number of Ukrainian refugees are expected to be received in the Netherlands, including in Amsterdam.

See further under housing market.


Asylum seekers are not included in the demographics.

Status holders who come from an asylum seekers' center outside Amsterdam fall under domestic migration.

Only beneficiaries who have obtained residence status in Amsterdam fall under foreign migration (immigration)



This includes anyone from outside the EU who stays in the Netherlands for more than 3 months without a residence permit. This can be for family, work, flights and other reasons.

One simply cannot stand a chance of a residence permit, be rejected or do not want or cannot participate in a procedure.


Some of the rejected asylum seekers have united in the group “We Are Here”. They are unable/unwilling to settle in the city under their own steam and are looking for a form of humane reception. Since 2019, Amsterdam has been offering temporary shelter to 500 undocumented migrants in 10 locations in the city (source: ).  


Many undocumented migrants work in cleaning, both for private individuals and for 'businesses'; many also work in private household and in the catering industry. According to Saskia Sassen (The Global City) their cheap labor is indispensable for the urban middle class, which cannot afford legal private help.


According to an estimate by the Scientific Research and Documentation Center (WODC), there are 15,000 undocumented migrants in Amsterdam. NGOs and key persons estimate the number between 10,000 and 30,000. (source: ).

Obviously, we don't find these numbers in the demographic statistics.




B Classification by age


The vast majority of migrants in Amsterdam are 18 - 30 years old.

18-22 years

Foreign students will be in this age group. So compare with the student numbers of the educational institutions

25-30 years

The graduates will include: 'knowledge migrants'. But of course not only highly educated people come to Amsterdam.  



C Classification by Migration reason

C1. Study

C2. Work

C3. Family/ Family/ Relationship

C4. Flights/ Asylum


The international appeal of Amsterdam is enormous. People come here for many reasons: economic, cultural, social, 'image'.

I assume that work or income almost always plays a major role.

There will often be several reasons to come to Amsterdam. In addition to work, things such as the small scale of the city, the presence of its own national network, bicycle traffic, the LBTHQ community or nightlife can play a major role.


C1 Study

Huge increase in international students in Amsterdam, especially at the UvA and VU. To a much lesser extent at the HvA and HiH.

Figures for registrations at an educational institution and figures for settle = living in Amsterdam can differ, among other things, due to living in a suburban municipality.

The UvA and VU are attracting large numbers of foreign students, partly because more and more studies are taught in English (80%??).

EU students have the same position as Dutch students.

Special residence permits and other arrangements are required for non-EU students.


C2 Work

There are approximately 600,000 foreign employees working in the Netherlands (from: Foreign knowledge workers in the Netherlands – Radboud/PBL 2020 p. 8 ). So both from the EU and from  outside of the EU.


Migrant Worker

Linguistically, anyone who comes to another country for work is a labor migrant.

We limit ourselves here to labor migrants from the EU.

See in particular the report of the Employment Protection Booster Team from the end of 20202: werkmigranten


As we saw above, the number of labor migrants who legally come from outside the EU is very small (less than 3000 across the Netherlands in 2021).


In practice, this is often understood to mean migrants with poor, underpaid work.

Large parts of the economy run on this modern form of exploitation: in Amsterdam it concerns construction, logistics, distribution, transport and port. Recent reports show an inhumane part of today's society, where "unbelievably long working days, unsafe working conditions, the lack of correct or good tools and incorrect payments are the order of the day" (NRC editorial comment 24-02-2022).


But in addition to the labor migrants as the " modern slaves " ((including NRC 18-05-2021 column Ton-Jan Meeus), the technical professional (the Eastern European welder, plumber, electrician, ventilation technician, heating technician, etc.) brought this concept. 

According to studies (mentioned here), the majority of both groups come from Eastern Europe.

Because the position on the labor market and in terms of income differ greatly, I distinguish


2 groups of labor migrants:

  • Low-earning, low-skilled, vulnerable migrant workers

  • Reasonably earning, technically skilled migrant workers


We will hardly encounter both groups of labor migrants in the population figures of Amsterdam : They usually live in the region (Otto Workforce, the largest employment agency for labor migrants has residential buildings in Wijk aan Zee and Zaandam).

In New West, North and Southeast, former owner-occupied homes are rented out to groups of Eastern European labor migrants. Finding numbers.

The professionals in construction and installation technology travel frequently – every few weeks – to their home country and will therefore not live here for 4 consecutive months, so that they cannot register here.

Nevertheless, a considerable Polish group lives in Amsterdam (figures) and there are, for example, Polish shops in Nieuw West (Johan Huizingalaan) and Noord (Meeuwenlaan).


Highly Skilled Migrant

About 100,000 foreign knowledge workers are active in the Netherlands (from: Foreign knowledge workers in the Netherlands p. 8). Knowledge workers choose places that are attractive from both a career and lifestyle perspective (p.11)

The Netherlands has had a so-called highly skilled migrant scheme since 2004. Since 2009, highly skilled migrants from outside the EU have been able to settle here temporarily with a Blue Card .


The major recent study on this is “Foreign Knowledge Workers in the Netherlands” by Radboud University/Planbureau for the Environment. (in collaboration with UvA Willem Boterman) (2020) . With the subtitle: “Where do they work and live and why”.

“Upper middle class housing preferences are part of this major project.” Below is a brief summary of this research:

Definition of highly skilled migrant

In this study, everyone who was born outside the Netherlands and who has never lived here before the age of 18, plus a special relationship between age, wage and education level, with at least 50% always having at least a higher professional education.


Distributed by countries of origin (p.8) :

EU (including UK): 45%

Turkey 7.7%

India 3.8%

US 3.7% 

China 2.2%

Other: 37.6%


Divided over economic sectors (p.8) :

Business Services 25%

Trade 14%

care 9%

Knowledge-intensive industry 7%

Education 7%

Other: 38%


In the top 10 of knowledge migrants – in terms of income – one in three works in business and financial services. Foreign knowledge workers from the top group mainly work for the largest foreign companies. (p. 10)


Almost a third of the highly skilled migrants in the Netherlands work for a foreign company. (p. 13) The foreign knowledge workers who work for a foreign company are largely expats, who therefore stay relatively short. (p. 9)


Duration of stay

After 8 years, about 65% of the highly skilled migrants have left. Moreover, this length of stay seems to be getting shorter and shorter (p. 9). 20% of foreign knowledge workers have left the Netherlands within 3 years (p. 10). After 3 years, more than 35% of the top 10 - in terms of income - have left the Netherlands (p. 10)



In the top of the knowledge workers in the Netherlands, in terms of income, knowledge migrants appear to be very well represented. In the 0.1% top, a quarter are foreigners; in the 1% top this is 15%. The ordinary highly skilled migrant, however, appears to earn slightly less than the Dutch.

Amsterdam region as a magnet for highly skilled migrants (p.12)

Amsterdam is the undisputed capital for international talent: about 22 percent of all highly skilled migrants work in this region. 35% of foreign knowledge workers live in the Amsterdam region. Their urban orientation is stronger than among Dutch knowledge workers. The center-urban environments are especially preferred. It is mainly the level of urban facilities (museums, cinemas, catering, theaters, etc.) and public safety that strongly determine the housing preferences of highly skilled migrants.

(For living; see p. 13 and 14., read more in the Housing chapter)


It is precisely the combination of foreign companies, internationally operating companies and highly skilled migrants that makes the Amsterdam region attractive. The research speaks of the 'Amsterdam effect': foreign knowledge workers like to work in this conurbation.


Policies to attract more knowledge workers

This Radboud - PBL study is primarily intended to improve policy aimed at attracting foreign knowledge workers. Because the Netherlands currently has relatively few highly skilled migrants from an international perspective, policy must first of all be aimed at attracting more highly skilled migrants. “Put our agglomerations on display” (15)

Glaeser et al. (2001): 'If cities are to remain strong, they must attract workers on the basis of quality of life as well as on the basis of higher wages.'

The report recommends pursuing a very selective policy, partly because the “war on talent” only affects 1% of the knowledge migrants and the ordinary knowledge migrant earns less than the ordinary Dutch knowledge worker (15).


Culture and Creative Class

From all over the world

From Concertgebouw Orchestra to Conservatory, from breeding ground to art director, from museum to game content.



= Top 1 percent of the highly skilled migrant; see above.

Amsterdam has an speciaal expat centre, where expats (high skilled migrants) can go for questions about housing, transport, healthcare and taxes: 

The Netherlands is actively trying to attract multi-/transnational companies and institutions and highly skilled migrants. One of the ways to make the Netherlands/Amsterdam attractive for this is tax benefits. For example, highly educated migrants (expats) in the Netherlands can be more or less exempt from income tax for the first five years (was 7 years until 2019) of their settlement; this amounts to a tax benefit of more than 30%.

Expats are also called “transnational elite”; the group that drives the international economy (Scott, 2006 & Beaverstock, 2005).


C3. Family migration

See above under residence permit for non-EU citizens.

In terms of influx of non-EU citizens, the size of this group is almost as large as the influx for labor migration. This concerns family members of highly skilled migrants (India), family reunification of status holders (Syria) or family ties and family formation (Turkey).

It will be quite difficult to gain more insight into this for Amsterdam, from the demographic figures.


C4. Flights/ Asylum

See above under migrants from outside the EU.



Amsterdam, February 28th - March 17th 2022

Beaverstock, J. V. (2005). Transnational elites in the city: British highly-skilled inter-company transferees in New York City’s financial district. In Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 31:2 (245-268).

Scott, S. (2006). The Social Morphology of Skilled Migration: TheCase of the British Middle Class in Paris. In Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies (1105-1129).

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