Work and family reunification main reasons for immigration

© Hollandse Hoogte / Flip Franssen
In 2018, the Netherlands received 191 thousand non-Dutch immigrants. They included 110 thousand migrants from countries in either the EU or EFTA (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland); the main migration purpose within this group was labour. The most prevalent motive among the 81 thousand immigrants from non-EU/EFTA countries was family reunion or family formation. This is evident from new figures released by Statistics Netherlands (CBS) on migration motives.

Labour migration has become an increasingly important motivation for EU and EFTA citizens since the European Union enlargements in 2004 and 2007. As of 2013, labour is a more prevalent migration motive for this group than family reunification. In 2018, nearly 40 percent came to the Netherlands to take up work.

Register-derived migration purposes of EU/EFTA citizens
JaarLabour (1,000 immigrants)Family (1,000 immigrants)Education (1,000 immigrants)Other/unknown (1,000 immigrants)
19997.728.611.213.96
20008.609.041.244.31
20018.219.321.444.49
20027.108.841.554.64
20035.617.941.984.55
20046.4710.413.176.46
20056.9910.073.677.05
20068.8411.574.287.27
200713.2715.745.4910.30
200817.9518.427.6113.08
200915.5517.738.6113.62
201017.3518.4610.7514.42
201119.7420.2812.5016.44
201219.6020.8913.6716.56
201322.2021.9810.8818.07
201429.0523.399.5219.70
201529.5223.4710.1219.17
201632.0224.7111.2320.71
201737.8325.8412.0823.89
201839.9824.3614.8030.69


Under EU legislation, all EU/EFTA citizens can work in any other EU member state without a work permit. This has been possible since 2007 for citizens of Poland and other countries which joined the EU as of 2004; and since 2014 for citizens of Bulgaria and Romania (joined in 2007).

As for immigrants from outside the EU/EFTA, their motives for migration to the Netherlands are more likely influenced by policy measures and the political situation elsewhere. Over the past two decades, a major driver of settlement migration to the Netherlands has been family reunification and formation, together with asylum migration (1999-2002 and more recently as of 2014). At the same time, there has been a progressive increase in labour and student migration. In 2018, one-third of all non-EU/EFTA immigration was motivated by family reunification or formation; slightly over 20 percent came here for work, an equally large share to study, and slightly over 15 percent was asylum migration.

It is possible for both labour migrants and asylum migrants to let family members (partner and/or children) come over in the context of family reunification. Relatives of asylum migrants applying under family reunification receive an asylum permit and are counted towards asylum migration.

Migration motives of non-EU/EFTA citizens
JaarLabour: knowledge migrant (1,000 immigrants)Labour: other (1,000 immigrants)Family: family formation (1,000 immigrants)Family: family reunification (1,000 immigrants)Asylum (1,000 immigrants)Education (1,000 immigrants)Other (1,000 immigrants)
19994.8912.4311.0520.953.962.39
20005.4013.2512.0629.454.613.35
20016.031.6225.5227.116.164.14
20025.361.2527.7319.257.803.55
20035.721.3327.258.247.283.84
20040.044.022.6717.702.566.235.51
20051.303.668.2010.113.266.463.19
20062.923.555.2710.843.337.532.82
20074.043.355.008.524.877.423.18
20085.503.876.6610.508.108.184.28
20094.073.657.3711.629.398.605.20
20104.543.647.1811.647.939.114.98
20115.094.567.5010.926.819.754.60
20124.973.925.789.165.999.775.27
20135.413.725.8010.249.4810.563.92
20146.013.586.4510.8617.1011.022.75
20157.054.125.6711.7432.3513.372.89
20168.144.456.7113.5943.0814.562.94
20179.735.296.9917.5624.4116.383.82
201811.836.038.0819.1012.8617.795.57


Three-quarters of labour migrants have left within 10 years

Not all immigrants settle for a longer period of time. This partly depends on the motive of immigration. In general, labour and student migrants stay for shorter periods, while family and asylum migrants tend to stay longer.

Of those immigrating from an EU/EFTA country in 1999 and in 2009 to work in the Netherlands, almost three-quarters had left the country again within ten years. 4 in 5 student migrants from the EU/EFTA who settled in the Netherlands in 2009 had emigrated by 2019.

Immigrants from EU/EFTA countries departing within 10 years, by year of entry
Type migrant2009 (% departing within 10 years)1999 (% departing within 10 years)
Total70.472.1
Education80.369.8
Labour72.274.6
Family55.464.1


Nearly 40 percent of asylum migrants leave within 10 years

Of all asylum migrants who arrived in the Netherlands in 2009, nearly 40 percent had departed the country within ten years, either returning to their country of origin or travelling on to another country.

As for labour migrants, an almost identical pattern is observed among both EU/EFTA and non-EU/EFTA citizens. Slightly over three-quarters of the labour migrants who entered in 2009 had departed within ten years.

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