Wittenborg Alumnus Leads Petition for Dutch Government to Extend "Zoekjaar" - WUAS writes to the Government Urging them to Take Action
When Indian student, Varsha Punj, graduated from Wittenborg University of Applied Sciences in July 2019, life was good – she soon started at a large retail firm in Amsterdam and her prospects of getting a permanent position looked fine. That was, until the COVID-19 pandemic reached the Netherlands in March. She soon found herself unemployed, like hundreds of other freshly graduated internationals. Punj is now driving a campaign appealing to the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) to extend the 12-month orientation year (zoekjaar), afforded to international graduates, which allows them to look for a job.
Wittenborg writes to the Ministers of Justice, Education, Economic Affairs and the Prime Minister
Wittenborg has written to the government to request them to extend the so called orientation year for current graduates and those about to graduate. In the letter, Wittenborg's President Peter Birdsall highlights the importance of safeguarding the position of the knowledge migrants in the Netherlands, as these graduates will be hard needed once the pandemic has receded and the economy bounces back as hard as current experts are predicting. A copy of the letter can be found here.
Punj, a born activist who volunteered in the last Dutch election, outed her frustration on social media after losing her job. She soon realised there were many others and they mobilised on a Facebook group, quickly drawing more than 200 members, as well as starting a petition to the Dutch Senate. "We are consulting with an immigration lawyer as well as members of parliament, the media and of course will appeal to the IND," Punj said. According to her, both Portugal and France have extended their orientation years for international students and it would be wise for the Netherlands to do the same.
"We would like to see it extended by at least 3 months. After losing my job, I tried to look for another one, but companies are not hiring right now, and especially not hiring white-collar workers. We are all educated and would like to work. My former company made it clear that it is unlikely they will start hiring again until 2021."
To make an extension of the "zoekjaar" possible would require an amendment to the Dutch Aliens Act of 2000. According to Punj, research has shown that it takes about 8 months on average for international graduates to find a job in their host countries. She graduated with an IBA (Bachelor) in Hospitality Management.
Among the more than 200 members that have joined the Facebook group are also about 20 –25 Wittenborg alumni. Punj said the impact of COVID-19 on employability also has consequences for graduates' finances. "Many of us now have to rely on our parents or other relatives to get through the month and cover our expenses."
by Anesca Smith
©Wittenborg University Press