Relatively few international knowledge workers in the Netherlands

© Hollandse Hoogte / Flip Franssen
From 2016 up to and including 2018, the Netherlands had 383 thousand international knowledge workers on average. This is equivalent to 4.2 percent in the Dutch labour force, a modest share compared to other European countries. A majority (63 percent) are active in the services sector. Statistics Netherlands (CBS) reports this following a new survey on international knowledge workers in the Netherlands and 13 other European countries, funded by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy.

In the period 2003/2005, there were on average 221 thousand international knowledge workers in the Netherlands. This number stood at 383 thousand (up by 73 percent) in the period 2016/2018. In 2003/2005, they still held a 2.7-percent share in the labour force, versus 4.2 percent in 2016/2018. Of the European countries surveyed, Luxembourg had the largest share of knowledge workers in the labour force in the period 2016/2018 at 26 percent.

In this survey, international knowledge workers are defined as all highly educated persons who have lived in a certain country (sometimes for many years) but were born in another country. This definition enables comparison between countries. To a lesser degree, this applies to the related concept of knowledge migrants, who are only registered as such in the year of entry and for whom migration policies and schemes may differ from one country to another.

International knowledge workers (% of the labour force)
Land2016/20182003/2005
Luxembourg2613
Switzerland137
Ireland123
United Kingdom93
Sweden93
Belgium74
Norway73
Austria73
Estonia57
Denmark52
Germany53
France43
Netherlands43
Finland21
Source: CBS, Eurostat

Limited growth of international knowledge workers

The rise in the proportion of international knowledge workers is modest in the Netherlands when compared against developments in the EU countries surveyed. In more than half of these countries, the percentage share of international knowledge workers has at least doubled. Of the countries directly surrounding the Netherlands, the United Kingdom is particularly striking. Here, both the proportion of knowledge workers in 2016/2018 (9 percent) and the growth relative to 2003/2005 were considerably higher than in the Netherlands.

Knowledge workers in the Netherlands often have a high occupational level

In the Netherlands, knowledge workers are likely to hold a position at their own qualification level. In 2016/2018, two-thirds were working at a high occupational level, for example as a manager or an engineer. This puts the Netherlands behind the leading countries of Luxembourg and Switzerland but slightly ahead of its neighbours Belgium, the United Kingdom and Germany.

International knowledge workers with high occupational level, 2016/2018 (%)
Land2016/2018
Luxembourg88
Switzerland77
Netherlands67
Belgium66
United Kingdom66
Germany65
Norway64
Denmark63
France63
Sweden62
Ireland58
Finland57
Estonia57
Austria57
Source: CBS, Eurostat

At 6.2 percent, the unemployment rate among international knowledge workers in the Netherlands in 2016/2018 was lower than in most other European countries. It was also lower than unemployment among people with a migration background in the Dutch labour force (8.4 percent in 2016/2018, on average). The overall unemployment rate averaged 4.9 percent in this period.

Share of international knowledge workers in manufacturing relatively low

The majority of international knowledge workers are active in the non-commercial services sector (35 percent), followed by the commercial services sector (28 percent). In the neighbouring countries, the share of international knowledge workers who are active in the services sector (both commercial and non-commercial) is higher in Belgium and the United Kingdom than in the Netherlands. When looking at Germany, the same applies to the construction sector. The Netherlands has relative few knowledge workers in this sector, namely 11 percent.

International knowledge workers by sector, 2016/2018 (%)
 Non-commercial servicesCommercial servicesTrade, transport and accommodation and food servicesManufacturingUnknown
Sweden482615111
Belgium462516130
Norway462315160
Denmark422419141
Finland402816160
UK383218120
France373018132
Netherlands3528161110
Switzerland343215154
Austria332422200
Estonia332020270
Germany322518250
Luxembourg32467510
Ireland303322140
Source: CBS, Eurostat

Largest share of self-employed found in the Netherlands

In the period 2016/2018, the Netherlands held the largest share of self-employed international knowledge workers among all the European countries surveyed, namely 20 percent. Together with the United Kingdom, it was also the only country where the share of self-employed increased relative to 2003/2005.

The number of self-employed international knowledge workers in the Netherlands has more than doubled, to 71 thousand. In 2016/2018, these workers were mainly found in the commercial services sector (41 percent), followed by the non-commercial services sector (33 percent). Their representation in the sectors trade (16 percent) and construction (4 percent) was relatively low. Of the sectors mentioned here, construction and non-commercial services both had declining shares of independent knowledge workers.

Self-employed among international knowledge workers in work (%)
Land2016/20182003/2005
Netherlands2016
United Kingdom1614
France1616
Belgium1617
Germany1519
Switzerland1316
Austria1318
Finland11
Estonia11
Ireland1114
Luxembourg910
Denmark812
Sweden810
Norway88
Source: CBS, Eurostat