The zoekjaar (orientation year) visa provides recent graduates with the chance to live and work in the Netherlands for a year with unrestricted access to the labour market. This makes the orientation year visa an excellent way to explore working in the Netherlands, to get a feel for the job market, and to gain some new connections. Yet unrestricted access to the job market for a limited time can mean that it is a little overwhelming to know where to begin after your visa's approval.
Below, you can find some advice about several different ways to enrich, and make the most of, your orientation year here in the Leiden region. This advice is for those who have already applied for their orientation year visas, but it may also be helpful for recent graduates who are considering whether they should apply for this particular visa. You can find more information about the orientation year visa itself below on our Students and Recent Graduates page.
Being in the Netherlands offers you the chance to begin networking with the community around you. Whether this means taking part in different job fairs, joining local sports and hobby associations, or just participating in neighbourhood events and activities, all of it can help you to feel more settled in the Netherlands. Importantly, many jobs and work opportunities can be found through word of mouth, so networking is a great way to learn more about the job market, what people recommend, and to hear of any upcoming job vacancies. Getting to know the local community is also a good way to learn more about (Dutch) culture and traditions, which can help you to navigate living here more easily, too.
For those interested in applying for a start-up or self-employed visa after their orientation year, then networking can also give you insight into what you should know about following either route. Getting in touch with other start-ups or self-employed individuals will help you prepare for what these visas entail in practice, and to learn what your options are if your application for one of these visas is successful.
Learn the Language
Learning a new language is sometimes challenging, but luckily the vast majority of Dutch people also speak English well. However, making a small effort to learn Dutch (even if it is only on a basic conversational level) can not only help you with networking, but it can help you with your job search, too. Although not all jobs require you to speak Dutch fluently, there are a number of jobs that require a minimum of B1 or B2 Dutch, so demonstrating in job applications and interviews that you are willing to make the effort to learn can improve your chances. Whether you begin by taking Dutch courses, or by using language learning apps, or through language exchange groups, discovering the basics of the language is sure to come in handy throughout your stay.
Curious about where to start with your Dutch language journey? Then take a look at our Dutch Language page!
Look For Work Experience Opportunities
Although this is easier said than done, one of the biggest perks about the orientation year visa is that you have unrestricted access to the Dutch job market. This means that you can work freelance, you can work part-time, you can work full-time, or you can take on an internship, depending upon what you want to focus on for your CV and work experience. Demonstrating that you are familiar with a Dutch work environment can also increase your chances of success in finding an employer who is willing to offer you visa sponsorship after your orientation year visa ends.
Additionally, the orientation year visa doesn't have any salary thresholds or visa sponsorship requirements, so you can apply to a range of different jobs without needing to worry about the latter two requirements. This means that you can already start gaining work experience whilst in the process of searching for future visa sponsorship. This can help you to meet others in your field and to learn more about what it means to work at an organisation in the Netherlands.
For a variety of different job portals and employers in the Leiden region, you can take a look at our Finding a Job page below.
Take Relevant Courses & Workshops
If you have an idea of what kind of field you would like to pursue a career in, then making sure you know more about the field and how it works in the Netherlands is an important step to take. For instance, following a programming bootcamp may help you in a range of careers, from digital security to software programming. Exploring the different available courses, and following one or two, can be especially helpful if you don't have a degree or background in the jobs that you are applying to. However, even if you do have a background in your desired career, taking the time for courses that focus on more specific areas of a field can enhance your CV as well.
Some of these workshops and short courses will be paid, but there are many that are offered for free online by accredited learning providers. For instance, LinkedIn offers a variety of courses, as does Coursera, Udemy, and Edx. Just make sure that you properly vet any course before taking it if you want to be certain that the course is accredited and from a respected facilitator, so that you can place it on your CV if needed. If you have time to add some of these new skills to your repertoire, then it also shows employers that you are proactive and willing to learn - both of which are traits most employers look for.
Research Your Future Options
The orientation year visa gives you one year to work in the Netherlands, and to eventually (if you decide you wish to stay in the Netherlands) find visa sponsorship for a highly skilled migrant visa, or to change your visa to a start-up visa or a self-employed visa. Although during this year you can give yourself the best possible chance of success by networking, gaining experience, and learning more Dutch, it's also important to research your future options in advance.
For instance, it's good to know that if you plan to apply for a highly skilled migrant visa after your orientation year, you will have a lower salary threshold requirement. In 2023, this means that orientation year visa holders who apply for a highly skilled migrant visa only need to meet a salary of at least 2,631 euros instead of the normal 3,672 euros for individuals under 30 years old. This can greatly broaden your potential job pool, and so it's important to keep in mind.
If you would like to use your orientation year to prepare for your application for a start-up visa or a self-employed visa, then it's also a great idea to explore how you can lay the groundwork for one of these applications. The orientation year can thus give you the opportunity to learn more about your target audience, what it means to work as a self-employed individual or to run a start-up in the Netherlands, and what the basic requirements for these two visas are.
You can learn more about the different residence permit options in the Netherlands on the Dutch Immigration Authority's official website below.