By Elena Butti
There are international students at UC who have to work to pay for their studies. Andi O’Rourke is one of them. Now Andi’s future at UCU is in danger, because she cannot work at Dining Hall anymore and finding a job elsewhere is almost impossible for her.
What’s Andi’s problem?
She’s ready, willing and able, but she misses one thing: she’s not a European Union citizen. According to Dutch law (1955 Aliens Employment Act), non-EU citizens (including students) need a work permit in order to work in the Netherlands. Only an employer can apply for it, but he will first have to show that he has tried to fill the position with Dutch and EU candidates by any means possible.
Andi, citizen of the USA, used to work in Dining Hall last year. In September her permit expired and with the change from Eurest to Sodexo, nobody seemed to know how she could get a new one. “I waited, waited, waited, didn’t hear anything,” she says. “I had to go back and forth from Mark Baldwin to Kees Jan [van Spronsen], nobody had a clue.”
Andi is not the only student facing these problems. “It was probably both our fault and the administration’s failure to inform us that we had to renew our permits,” explains Daniel Vale, South-African, who has also lost his job, “but in the end we found ourselves without a permit.”
Dining Hall Manager Kees Jan van Spronsen explains that the working permits are an objective, legal problem, of which students should take care themselves. “If the permit of a student elapses, he/she will have to re-apply for it. The procedure takes 4-5 months. We need to handle these cases with particular care: if some formalities are wrong with the work permit, we will get a 30 000 euro fine.”
Why did it become so hard for non-EU students to get a permit?
According to Andi, these problems are also a result of the new company’s policy: “The time and bureaucracy of the work permit application process are just not worth it for Sodexo, I guess” says Andi.
Van Spronsen explains that the choice of whom to hire is purely a practical one: “In the end we resolved to hire students who can work as easily and quickly as possible, that is people from the EU. In principle, however, if you come from outside the EU but you have applied for the necessary documents on time, there is no problem.”
But, according to Dutch law, students cannot apply for work permits on their own. It is their employer who needs to do that.
It is important to keep in mind that jobs in DH are especially meant for international students who need to pay for their studies. These students can apply for the jobs with Mark Baldwin and be put on a priority list. UCU is an international college, which should strive to grant the same opportunities to EU and non-EU students in need.
How could this situation have been avoided?
“We’ve largely been kept in the dark by the new administration, which is understandable because they’re in a moment of transition,” says Daniel.
“The decision on whether to hire non-EU students was made too late, in August,” says Andi. “If they had decided earlier, maybe I could have got my permit by now. The feeling I have is that nobody knew, so it’s nobody’s fault.”
Why haven’t the consequences of this situation been investigated in advance, and the students notified promptly?
“Have you tried to look for other jobs?”
“I’ve tried everything,” says Andi. College Hall was not able to get a permit for her to work at the reception desk or at the book sales. “It’s stressful to always have to think about money while also studying. Looking for a job is a full-time job.”
Bulgarian Matéy Nikolov also had troubles. Although formally in the EU, Bulgaria and Romania have a ‘special status’ by which its nationals are also required a permit to work in the EU. Matéy has been on the waiting list for DH for nine months, and still hasn’t been employed.
He agrees that finding a job elsewhere is a nightmare. “Everytime I apply somewehere, they just ingore my application when they hear I’m Bulgarian. I really think they should change the procedure and first employ students who have a really hard time finding a job outside.”
What is UCU administration doing now to face this problem?
The Managing Director will discuss the issue with Sodexo on September 20th. This is the only information which has been disclosed by College Hall so far.
When asked whether they think they’ll be able to get their job back Andi is skeptical, but Daniel sounds more positive: “my approach is to talk to them diplomatically. If we get along well, maybe they’ll be able to help me.”
In the meantime, however, Andi, Matéy, Daniel and any other non-EU students are not able to work. And for some of them working may be vital: “For me, this is the difference between being able to stay in Holland long term and having to go back home,” says Andi.