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Leiden graduate starts petition for visa extension because of Covid-19

Yuven Muniandy (36) from Malaysia recently obtained a PhD from Leiden University. His ‘orientation year’ visa gives him a year to find work in the Netherlands. But with Covid-19, companies have frozen recruitment. Yuven and seven other graduates are asking for a visa extension. He explains why.

You obtained your PhD in biology in November 2019. Could you explain a bit about your visa and why you started the petition to have it extended?

‘I’m on an orientation year visa. This is a government scheme to retain highly educated internationals. I applied for the visa when I obtained my PhD because I want to stay in the Netherlands. The visa gives you a year to find a job here. But with the Covid-19 crisis, companies have frozen recruitment, so there are very few job opportunities at the moment. As my visa expires in September 2020, I and a group of others who are in the same situation have started a petition asking the government to extend our visas.’ 

Yuven Muniandy
Yuven Muniandy

What makes you want to stay in the Netherlands?

‘Having lived here for almost six years, I have grown fond of the country. I would love to have a career here because the Dutch have a good work-life balance. Being an Asian, I was never really trained to say no. I think a pauze here and there is good for your health. I also love taking long bike rides in the countryside and walking in the cities by the canals. The Netherlands is a beautiful and vibrant country.’ 

The orientation year residence permit is for highly educated non-EU/EEA citizens who wish to find a job or start their own business in the Netherlands after graduating. It gives them a year in which to do so. To be eligible for the permit you have to meet a number of conditions such as having completed an accredited bachelor’s or master’s programme or conducted scientific research in the Netherlands within the past three years. 

What experience do you have and what kind of job are you looking for?

‘I obtained my PhD in the lab of Professor Michael Richardson at the Institute of Biology Leiden (IBL). For my research I investigated the role of larval zebrafish as a model for assessing anxiety-like behaviour and screening anti-anxiety drugs. I have also worked in the life science industry, on the large-scale manufacture of stem cells. 

‘I am currently exploring opportunities in either academia or industry that will help me expand my analytical soft skills. My passion is innovating science and technology through communication, creative storytelling and writing. Writing my thesis aroused my interest in science journalism and that’s the area that interests me now. I’m interested in editorial or publishing jobs such as medical or science writer.’ 

Why did you come to Leiden and what was it like to study here?

‘I decided to do my PhD in the Netherlands because I wanted to learn how to do professional and sound scientific research. My philosophy is: if you want to master knowledge you have to go to the source. And to learn modern science you have to go to Western Europe.

‘My PhD could be termed a walk in the park and a stormy night all in one, with a bit more of the latter. I experienced a loss in my family just six months after I joined IBL, which took a heavy toll and affected my performance. But with the support of my supervisor, colleagues, family and friends in Leiden, I managed to finish my PhD. And despite the difficult times, I have really enjoyed my stay in Leiden – I have been living here for almost six years now – and learned lots of new skills and participated in great academic discussions. I also made many friends in IBL, especially my colleagues on the sixth floor where we had many an entertaining koffietijd!

‘I am really grateful to the Dutch government for giving me the orientation year visa, also because this allows me to work part-time while looking for a ‘proper’ job. Life since Covid-19 has been very hard, but I feel blessed because I am still receiving my salary from my part-time job . I am also receiving help from my friends at the International Church of Leiden.’

Armaghan Azhar (29),  one of the other graduates appealing for a visa extension, also studied at Leiden University. She came to the Netherlands from Iran in August 2018 and received a Master’s degree in Public International Law from Leiden University in 2019 She says: ‘My goal is to become a prominent international commercial legal counsel, and to establish myself as a leading female immigrant who has surmounted all the hurdles in her life. I am here to dedicate all that I have learned in my four diplomas, over four years of legal work, various research papers and four languages to this society. I would like to prove that nationality and gender are no barrier to individual success. I am positive that if the Netherlands believes in us as immigrants, we have the stamina, skills, knowledge and enterprise to help the Netherlands overcome the problems it will face in the post-corona era.’

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