‘Expats are of vital importance to our Maastricht Region’

13 December 2021

Professor Frank Cörvers is Program Director Human Capital in the Region at Maastricht University’s Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA). We spoke to him about the significance of expats and other internationals for the regional economy.

Wind in the back with Brightlands and good background story

We now know that narratives are important for the development of regional economies. If you tell the story of the region often enough, people will believe in it, with a positive effect on the region itself. Look at Heerlen’s background story: underground culture, Maankwartier, the tourism award, the Mining Museum, all factors that show that Heerlen is doing well. That comes on top of the transformation of their labour market. The Brightlands Smart Services Campus falls in line with the services that came there after the mine closure: ABP, Tax Authority, CBS, Defence. These smart services do not yet represent much in terms of employment, but such innovative activity is crucial in the long term.

Opportunity lies in international location

In the (former) neighbouring mining areas of Germany and Belgium attempts are also being made to give the economy a new impulse; with innovative industry, campuses, tourism and new services. There too, we see that young people are more attracted by the magnet of the capital than they are interested in or know about the job opportunities just across the border. The Euregio Meuse-Rhine is fairly densely populated and that is unusual for a border region (compared to Nijmegen or Enschede for example). One could benefit from that if there were more cross-border mobility. Partly because the latter has not yet got off to a good start, we are unable to fill our vacancies. This could be useful if cross-border mobility were better. But partly because it is not, we find it difficult to fill our vacancies.

Incredible labour market

We have more vacancies than unemployed people in the Maastricht Region. This triggers a flow of low and medium-skilled workers to our agricultural and construction sectors. Many of these are from Eastern Europe. Then there are the knowledge workers, often Germans and Belgians from the border region, but also more and more 'third country nationals'.

To get a work permit as a knowledge worker, the applicant must earn at least a certain wage and the employer has to demonstrate that they need specific knowledge that we do not have here. This group is very important for the development of the Dutch economy: ICT professionals, engineers, technicians. Even vacancies for our PhD students are being responded to from all over the world. India, China, the United States, Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia, but also from Africa.

We should also consider applicants with a refugee status, there are many highly skilled professionals among them.

Vital for some sectors

Many jobs have become so specialised that it is difficult to recruit people from one’s own region. A well-known example is microchip manufacturer ASML, in the Eindhoven region. For companies like this, Asia and the US provide an essential supply of talent. ASML says: ‘we cannot succeed with [only] local talent.” This also applies to a lot of work on Brightlands Chemelot Campus. This super-specialisation means you have to think on a global scale. The niches are so incredibly small that you have to look very broadly. The vein of international knowledge workers must be open so that the supply from outside can run smoothly.

Why do they come to the Maastricht Region?

The employment conditions in the Netherlands are good. There is an informal culture here that fits in well with the Anglo-Saxon mentality. Maastricht also has a fairly international climate, people speak English easily here and that is appealing. Not enough is known about the 30% taxation rule, which is very appealing. If you have to move more than 150 kilometres to work here, 30% of your gross salary may be exempt from tax. This is often not known in advance. In addition, there are often generous allowances for relocation costs.

What can we do better?

We must do much better in informing people who come here from abroad to study or work about what is available throughout the entire Maastricht Region. This way they are more likely to stay here, and we will not have to bring new people from far away again and again.

So we need to raise the profile of the Euregio Meuse-Rhine among international employees. Internationals find everything close together here, travelling times and distances form far less of a barrier for them than for us. Another improvement would be the removal of bureaucratic barriers.

Municipalities must cooperate more effectively. Don't think from your own framework, but from the expat's perspective: where should a head office be located to be attractive for him or her? Where are attractive locations for people to live near to the Brightlands Chemelot Campus?

Frank Corvers ROA.jpg
Frank Corvers