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Expat Centers Offer Efficient and Quick Way to Settle In 

gcfi-winter 2013

By Paul J. Kleijne

Expat centers are a great way to improve your regional investment climate.

Multinational corporations bring a vital contribution to the economies in Western European countries. They create do not only a substantial number of direct and indirect jobs, but also enforce innovation power and provide regions with international exposure.

Surveys reveal that these companies operate more innovatively, export more goods and services, and deliver better results at the end of the day. It appears that job growth within foreign investors is substantially greater than the figures indigenous companies are able to show. Because knowledge and innovation are the most important factors for leveraging labor productivity, they also boost structural economic growth — attracting high level jobs affects regional employment on other levels relatively strong. Reasons enough to actively guard and improve your regional investment climate?

Human Resources

Currently the Netherlands is the third largest host country for foreign investments in Europe. Approximately 6,000 foreign-owned establishments, employing almost 800,000 people, equaling more than 15 percent of national employment, have set up shop there. Moreover, the Netherlands can boast on numerous technology clusters, such as life sciences, energy, chemical, food and high-tech systems, including prominent companies and research and educational institutes. Within these clusters human resources are the nucleus for creating and transferring knowledge, as well as the transformation of knowledge into products and services. The presence of highly skilled labor migrants, scientific researchers and trainees is a necessary and essential element for the Dutch economy, labor productivity and innovation power. However, the supply of highly skilled personnel was trailing the demand of corporations and institutes some five years ago, which threatened the growth and economic position of some of the Dutch technology regions. One of the key elements of strengthening the investment climate for foreign companies was to pave the road for personnel from abroad, to make them feel at home and settle-in more smoothly. Straightening out formal government procedures was one of the priority points.

In 2008, several years before the EU Blue Card Directive was issued, Dutch regional development agencies, in close cooperation with municipal and provincial organizations, decided to set-up regional expat centers to better accommodate specific groups of expats.

The EU Blue Card

In 2011, the Netherlands decided to take part in the European Union Blue Card Directive and implemented it in Dutch immigration legislation. With this directive, the EU introduced a new “purpose of stay,” which was developed to attract highly non-EU skilled migrants to Europe and to stimulate mobility of workers within the European Union. This Blue Card, actually a work and residence permit for expats from outside the European Union, did not replace the existing Dutch national highly skilled immigration schemes, but will co-exist with them. The benefit of the Blue Card lies in a (limited) amount of EU mobility rights that national permits in EU member states generally do not offer. The criteria for obtaining the EU Blue Card are stricter than the criteria for the Dutch national highly skilled (knowledge) migrant residence permit. The holder of the Blue Card is allowed to move to another EU member state without losing the years of stay that were built-up in the first country of residence.

Europe’s First Official Expat Center

In 2008, several years before the EU Blue Card Directive was issued, Dutch regional development agencies, in close cooperation with municipal and provincial organizations, decided to set-up regional expat centers to better accommodate specific groups of expats: highly skilled migrants, scientific researchers and trainees. In 2011, 6,580 residence permit applications for these expat groups were granted. The top three nationalities were from India, the United States and China. The first regional expat center was established that year at a strategic location in Amsterdam (at the famous business park South Axis, easily accessible by car and public transportation), in order to assist all arriving knowledge migrants and scientific researchers in dealing with the required formalities in a one-stop-shop principle. Until that point in time, performing the necessary paperwork and obtaining the right permits, proof of registration and a social security number was rather cumbersome, which had to be done at separate locations scattered throughout the country. And it took a lot of time and effort: three months versus the current two weeks. Time that could not be spent working, settling-in or making spouses, partners and children feel at ease after family reunification. The ambition of the expat center was to contribute to the integration of migrants and their families by realizing a warm welcome, which ensures a smooth, easy and fast settlement into the region. It wanted to fulfill the expats’ needs by offering a fast and easy way of arranging public (formalities) and private (service) services in the first month(s) after arrival in the Netherlands as much as possible, at the same time and at one location.

Formalities Made Easy

By linking the governmental public systems, the necessary formalities can be easily taken care of at one central location: an effective and efficient combination of issuing a residence permit by the Immigration and Naturalisation Service and the basic registration into the municipal database (which is mandatory in most Western European countries). Formalities include a statutory duty of the government and are therefore placed within a public authority. The collaborating partners in the public expat centers are all responsible for their own specific statutory duties. For the current partners in the public expat centers this means that the Immigration and Naturalisation Service is responsible for issuing residence permits and the municipalities for municipal registration and providing social security numbers. Also pilot projects were started with other public service providers such as the tax authorities, the social security bank and the traffic authorities (for example for exchanging driver’s licenses).

Complimentary Services: Partnership Programs

In order to assist expats upon arrival and during their first months in the Netherlands, apart from offering the above mentioned governmental services at one location, most expat centers decided to fully outsource the specific service component. A distinctive collaboration has been set-up between the expat centers and private service providers. For a particular period of time these parties get the opportunity to provide expats and/or their employers with commercial services at their own expense and risk. This so-called partnership program redirects expats to reliable service providers in a wide variety of expat related topics, including:

*banking

*housing agencies

*tax and financial advisors

*childcare

*education (higher education, international schools, training and courses)

*language courses

*media

*employment agencies

*legal advisors

*relocators

*insurance

*travel agencies

*telecom and Internet

*health care

*sports

This cooperation creates a reliable network of service providers for the expats, their families and employers. This program aims for better and more comprehensive services towards the expats; promoting the regions as a location for international companies and expats; sharing knowledge within the local marketplace; a contribution of private partners in the operating costs of the expat center. The quality of the private services is monitored by setting quality standards.
Room for More

Currently there are four operational, full-fledged expat centers in the Netherlands: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and the southern Netherlands, covering the lion’s share of the knowledge migrant permit applications in the country — two more expat centers in Utrecht and Wageningen are under development.

On a national level the expat centers are working closely together. Currently the expat centers in the southern Netherlands, The Hague and Amsterdam are developing a standard for the formalities and services provided. The central government, represented by the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency (NFIA, a department of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation), regularly hosts roundtable sessions with all Dutch Expat Centers in order to exchange the latest trends, developments and pilot project results. Exit polls and client surveys reveal that multinational companies in the Netherlands enthusiastically welcome the establishment of these expat centers throughout the country. It has taken away an enormous work and cost load from the employers’ hands, and has made the settling in process for expats a lot easier and shorter, which is an important step toward building a much better investment climate.

Paul J. Kleijne is a partner at ARCUSplus International Business Development, www.arcusplus.com. The company is an international business consultancy firm, specializing in lead generation and business development for global operating businesses and economic development agencies. The company has worked with logistics service providers and economic development groups in Europe, North America and Asia to facilitate cross-border business.

Illustration by adamr at Free Digital Photos.net

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