If you’re relocating employees to the Netherlands as part of your international hiring process, it’s all too easy for your new team members to become overwhelmed with all the steps involved. We spoke to the CEO of NextWave-Infinium, David Aston, about why and how the company supports employees relocating from South Africa to the Netherlands.
Why you should consider cross-border hiring
The Netherlands, including the rest of Europe and the United Kingdom, is seeing a big increase in demand for technology-focused roles. If you’re hiring in tech, it’s become increasingly important to hire beyond your own borders to find the best talent.
Despite a recent cool down in the global hiring market, demand still outstrips supply. There has undoubtedly been an increase in demand for talented developers and companies continue to source from the same channels and places, despite how much the hiring landscape has changed. That’s why Nextwave-Infinium began to actively source hard-to-find data engineers and other technical expertise from outside of the Dutch marketplace.
Nextwave-Infinium is a consulting business focused on helping clients with their digital acceleration strategy and projects in financial markets and services. The Nextwave group has offices in Amsterdam, London and Milan.
The EDGE Olympic, where Nextwave-Infinium’s offices are located in Amsterdam.
“At the moment, there’s a shortage of data engineers in the market,” says David. “When looking across the Dutch employment market, I recently heard that for every 100 people, there are about 130 vacancies. Within the Data engineering segment, the shortage is probably even more acute. There’s a shortage of really good people, who are able to make the jump to deliver on the complex projects we work on with our clients.”
With a buoyant market and a growing business, David and his team decided to look outside of the Dutch market and started exploring South Africa. “There’s definitely a market for South Africans. They’ve got the right work ethic and attitude, they are well educated, and above all they are great people! The fact that many also speak Afrikaans, which is quite similar to Dutch is also a plus. Many of the candidates also have a Dutch heritage, so are able to rely on distant family connections to support them when they arrive. It just works.”
Nextwave-Infinium relocates its South African employees to the Netherlands for a number of practical reasons:
- They feel that it’s easier to build their business and grow their team culture in person. By being in that location, it’s easier for team members to actively contribute to projects, and feel part of what they are building.
- Post-COVID, their clients have moved away from the “work from home model” to a hybrid model, where teams are required on-site 2-3 days per week.
- The company does not have an established South African entity to manage the local payroll or tax compliance. Therefore, they can’t have employees that are based in South Africa, since it’s important to them not to compromise the individual or the company in any way.
- The Netherlands also offers the 30% tax ruling as an incentive to highly skilled individuals who relocate. This can significantly reduce the tax burden on employees for up to 5 years, assuming their application is successful.
Within the hiring process, Nextwave-Infinium are required to first advertise their open roles within the European Union, as well as with the Dutch unemployment agency (UWV) to see if there are any suitable candidates for the vacancy. If they can’t hire a local candidate within 12 weeks, they widen the net to hire in South Africa — and relocate their successful hires.
Why Employee Relocation Support Is So Critical To Success
The relocation process from South Africa to the Netherlands is complex and involves a number of steps. It is quite easy to feel overwhelmed by steps ranging from the visa application process, to gathering all the official documents you need, to booking flights and flying in and then having to deal with an array of administrative tasks in order to be legally recognised and employed in the country.
“There are a lot of logistics involved, and they all need sorting in a specific order. It’s very organised in the Netherlands, but you need to follow the process, else your application and relocation can be significantly delayed,” says David.
That’s why being there every step of the way is so important. If you don’t offer support, your new team member will also struggle to handle all the changes they’re experiencing and get properly settled.
There are few things worse than accepting a job offer, relocating and then not being made to feel welcome:
“I’m fortunate that I’ve lived in many countries. I’ve relocated numerous times, and I know the mix of concerns, the doubts and the excitement you have,” David explains. “I think a lot of people who are hiring don’t understand the cultural challenges or the emotions that the person is going to go through. By understanding the journey and being there for the person, you start building the employer-employee relationship immediately, can tackle the issues together and start building trust from day 1.”
Aside from the fact that the employer has a legal responsibility to look after the individuals that are being hired and sponsored, that loyalty will be repaid if you join them on their journey:
“After joining, their journey and growth continues with the wider business. When we hire again, there is a ready support network of people who have already been on the journey, who can offer further advice and who will be keen to socialise with you and show you around,” says David.
Accordingly, Nextwave-Infinium has built a relocation process that’s based on first-hand experience of relocating and living all over the world. It’s designed to optimise engagement on both sides and help their newly relocated team members integrate into the country and company as quickly as possible once they’re in the Netherlands.
Supporting employees during every step when relocating to the Netherlands
In total, it typically takes Nextwave-Infinium between 14 to 16 weeks to find and relocate South African team members to the Netherlands.
Here are the steps they take to support their people through the process:
Top Tips To Support The Relocation Process
1. Complete the visa application process together
Once the candidate has accepted the offer, the visa application process can kick off. A member of the Nextwave-Infinium team arranges a session with the applicant. During this meeting the various online forms are filled in together, completing the application for highly skilled migrant status on the IND portal, which takes about an hour. There are a few follow-up steps (such as providing various certificates for marriage or employment) after the application process.
Once submitted, visa approval can take as little as two weeks when the company is a recognised sponsor (in most cases this is a month). Within a week of the visa being approved, the company will receive a letter that the applicant can make an appointment with either the Dutch embassy or Consulate (in Pretoria or Cape Town, respectively) to collect their visa.
What type of visa is needed?
There are various visa options available depending on your employee’s circumstances — you can read more on the Netherland’s government website.
Nextwave-Infinium applies for the GVVA (gecombineerde vergunning voor verblijf en arbeid), which is a single application that allows the applicant to enter the Netherlands within 90 days upon approval of their visa, and pick up their residence and work permit once they arrive.
- As a business, you can apply for recognition as a sponsor at the IND to make this process go much faster.
“I’ve heard of situations where a visa was only approved after six months because the company wasn’t an official sponsor yet,” says David. “By that time the candidate had moved on to something else. Understanding the way you can accelerate and remove the pain from the process is very important.”
- Once you have the signed employment contract, and the visa is approved, your team member can resign from their previous job to take notice periods into account before they relocate. At this point, they should also start selling their house or stop their lease, and look into selling or storing their belongings.
2. Have weekly check-ins while gathering the paperwork
At the same time as the visa processes, Nextwave-Infinium starts having weekly check-in sessions with their new team member to ensure everything is progressing smoothly and to answer any questions they might have.
This is because many admin tasks happen at this stage: your employee has to start having all their documents apostilled, such as their birth certificate or marriage certificate, for them to be recognised in the Netherlands.
By being available during this process, you build trust and a bond with your new colleague:
“The minute they sign your offer letter is the minute you start the journey together,” says David. “On their side, there’s a lot of uncertainty. They’re leaving their job, leaving South Africa, maybe they’ve never left South Africa before. They’ve only seen these people on video calls and the website, but who are they and what do they do? The sooner you work together and start to build that trust the better.’’
- The candidate can also start this process as soon as they accept your job offer.
“For a while, we waited for the documents to be apostilled before pressing the button on the visa application,” says David. “Actually, I would say do them in parallel. We’ve found that the slowest horse is not the visa, it’s the documents.”
The exception? If your new team member is bringing their spouse, their visa application will require an apostilled wedding certificate. If they are bringing their partner and are not yet married, that further complicates things, as the IND has a set of criteria that they wish to satisfy to prove you are actually together.
3. Offer a relocation package
To support the individual with their move, Nextwave-Infinium also pays a relocation package. This is a budget that covers up to the first three months of their team member’s rent.
“This means that when people arrive they know that they will have a place to live and do not have to worry about meeting an immediate rental bill. It just takes away the uncertainty,” David explains.
The employee will pay the amount and send it to the company to be reimbursed — this allows the expense to be properly recorded and audited in the company accounts.
4. Meet them at the airport and help them get settled
Once the visa and apostilled documents are ready, it’s time for your new team member’s big leap: Coming across. When they arrive, keep in mind that they likely don’t know the country, how to get anywhere, or how to speak Dutch. That’s why Nextwave-Infinium meets people in person.
“I’ve seen other people relocate and they just turn up at the airport. There’s no one there to meet them. There’s no welcome team. There’s nothing. Then they surface three days later, confused and a bit concerned and they don’t know if they’re part of a team or not.”
After meeting them at the airport, the company drives them to the estate agent to help pick up their keys and get into their property.
“We do the whole pre-check with them, everything from the internet to the heating, and all that stuff. We then make sure that the agent is in place and there to support them. At that point it is over to them… because that is also part of their journey and learning experience.”
Provide some guidance to new members of your team to navigate housing before they arrive in the Netherlands. Since the Netherlands is experiencing a major housing shortage, finding housing is often the biggest challenge for people that relocate.
Nextwave-Infinium recommends reliable estate agents for their employees to arrange their accommodation prior to their arrival in the country. They recommend people avoid looking on Facebook for accommodation, as there are a lot of housing scams. It’s easier for people to find housing in cities like Haarlem, Leiden and Delft than Amsterdam, which is expensive and difficult to arrange remotely.
5. Help your new team member once they’re in the Netherlands
Once the team member has moved into their new place, there are several things that Nextwave-Infinium does to help team members integrate quickly in the Netherlands.
“In the Netherlands, unless you have a mobile phone and then a BSN (burgerservicenummer), you can’t really do anything. You can’t be paid. The system’s very integrated with all the things you need,” explains David.
Nextwave-Infinium has put together a series of internal resources for team members to navigate some of the most important things to get in place once they’re in the Netherlands.
The order of doing these activities is also very important. They include:
- Collecting your work permit (which is also time restricted by the IND)
- Getting set up with a BSN and a mobile phone number
- Opening a bank account
- The necessary health tests you need to do once in the country
- How to travel around the country — Nextwave-Infinium issues their team members with a travel card to make this easier.
- Expat groups that they can join in the Netherlands
- Introductions to the wider team and the broader support network
Apply for the 30% tax ruling
Within the first 12 weeks of your new team member being in the country, the company works with the individual to apply for the 30% tax ruling if they’re classified as a highly-skilled migrant.
“It’s very attractive to the individual because it has the result of reducing their tax burden quite significantly for the first five years that they’re here,” says David. “Once the application is approved, they also get reimbursed retroactively for all the months since they started employment. It’s quite a nice lump sum they get back.”
Nextwave-Infinium makes use of a third party to complete the application on behalf of its employees. They also pay for the application.
“I could say to the individuals, ‘You pay for that, not me.’ But we’ve seen then that they use the wrong accountants, the application takes a long time, or it doesn’t succeed because they didn’t understand the process,” says David.
6. Continually support relocated team members once they’ve joined
Once your team members are fully settled, some ways to continue offering support include:
Regular social events
Nextwave-Infinium arranges regular social events to help their team members make friends and get to know the area. This includes hiring boats for social events to take people around Amsterdam and hosting a Christmas event to celebrate their first year in the country.
As a result, they now have six engineers on the team that can learn from each other, as well as spend time together after work.
Some members of Nextwave-Infinium’s data team. From left to right: Ranveer Singh, Jerome Damhuis, Chase Kirsten, Riccardo Ladu.
In addition to your normal onboarding schedule, David recommends arranging extra check-ins with your relocated employees to ensure they get settled in well.
At the end of the day, the most important thing is to build a culture for the team to stay with you in the long-term:
“It’s about building the team. We are not in this for the short term. These people have relocated. They’re probably going to settle down, have families here and be here for the next 20 years.’’
And it seems to be working, adds David:
“We’ve seen massive growth in the business in the past 18 months, making the company one of the big success stories in the Dutch market — aided in part by hiring highly skilled individuals from South Africa.”
- The Ultimate Developer Hiring Guide. This guide covers every aspect of the tech hiring process, from sending the first message, to interviewing and onboarding developers.