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‘Expats get red-carpet treatment'

Expats in the Netherlands receive a much warmer reception than other migrants, Leiden University's Aniek Smit has discovered. ‘But municipalities need to pay more attention to the differences between expats and the effects of their presence on other residents.' PhD defence 25 January.

A lot of research has been done on the settlement process and the reception of migrants in Dutch society, but this research is mainly on poorly educated migrants from such countries as Morocco and Turkey. However, the more highly educated expats - employees who are sent abroad by their companies for several years - have received little scientific attention even though their numbers have been growing strongly and they are an important group in the cities where they are located. Leiden PhD candidate Aniek Smit comments, ‘Dutch municipalities roll out the red carpet for expats, who are in a different position from other migrants because they already have a good job. Municipalities hope that providing good facilities for expats will help them attract more international employers.' 

Preferential treatment for expats

There are, for example, special helpdesks for expats, and they are given all kinds of benefits, including tax exemptions and a fast-track immigration procedure. In spite of this preferential treatment, Smit believes that the municipalities tend to regard expats as one homogeneous group. In the course of the years, however, the group of expats has become much more diverse. They are increasingly from non-Western countries and there are big differences in their salaries. 'Expensive expat services are not as attractive for employees at the start of their career, who often have an uncertain contract or who have dependent family members back in their home country.' 

Dutch expats in Indonesia in 1966. Photo: ANP (The memory of the Netherlands)

Expats in The Hague and Jakarta

Smit examined the position of expats in The Hague and Jakarta in the period from 1945 to 2015. The Hague is traditionally a city of diplomats, and in Jakarta, too, is home to many Dutch and other nationalities who settled there in the early post-colonial period. In both cities the number of expats grew from a few thousand in the 1950s to tens of thousands in the 1990s. The Hague was one of the first Dutch cities to offer extra services for expats, but expats in Jakarta were received much less warmly by the local authorities, Smit discovered. 'Given the region's colonial history, Indonesia was not keen to be so dependent on foreign workers, an attitude that continued up to the 1970s.’

Critical neighbours

Nor is everyone in the Netherlands by definition enthusiastic about the growing group of VIP workers. 'They are seen by some people as the face of globalisation. Municipalities need to pay more attention to the consequences of their presence for other residents.'  The generous living allowances enjoyed by expats have driven house prices up in some areas. In the Statenkwartier in The Hague, residents observed with some suspicion the extra security measures following the arrival of international tribunals and their foreign employees. In Bezuidenhout in the 1980s residents were concerned about the ambitious plans for an international school campus. Eventually, to the dismay of the municipality of The Hague, the employers and investors decided to construct the campus in Wassenaar.  

Limited integration

Smit discovered that for different reasons expats become only marginally integrated into the community where they live. Given that their stay is temporary, often around 3 years, they mainly seek contact with other expats. Occasionally their stay turns out to be not as short as initially planned, but their lifestyle based on a temporary stay often doesn't change. There is a particular level of standardisation of expat communities throughout the world, which is something that employers contribute to. Wherever there is an expat community, there are the same kinds of expat clubs and facilities; many expats move from one country to another and want to find the same facilities wherever they go. However, that doesn't encourage them to integrate into the local society.' 

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