‘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 backstory

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 backstory: 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 in Germany and Belgium, attempts are also being made to give the economy a new meaning; 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 (in Nijmegen or Enschede, for example, there is much less to be had across the border). 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.

Incredibly labour market

We have more vacancies than unemployed people in the Maastricht Region. This triggers a flow of low and medium-skilled professionals to our agricultural and construction sectors, especially 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. That “blue card 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 is 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 letting people who come here from abroad to study or work know what is available in the entire Maastricht Region. So that we can keep them and do not have to bring them from far away again and again. So we need to raise the profile of the Euregio Meuse-Rhine among international employees. They find everything close to each other here, the distance barrier is higher for us than for them. What also needs to be improved is the removal of bureaucratic barriers. Municipalities must cooperate more effectively. Don't think from your own structures, but from the expat's perspective: where does a head office need to be to be attractive for him or her? Where is it attractive for people to live on the Brightlands Chemelot Campus? With such a mindset, you can do a lot more for international employees.

Frank Corvers ROA.jpg
Frank Corvers