Begin before the beginning – migration in Utrecht

01/06/2018

Two core principals have boosted the success of migrant integration in Utrecht: beginning before the beginning and inclusion for all. But what does it mean to begin before the beginning? In the Netherlands, asylum seekers start in centres from which successful applicants are assigned cities. Utrecht establishes contact with its future residents before they arrive in the city, while they are still in the reception centre. The city assesses the migrant’s skills and investigates possible employment options.

Through their 2017 job fair, Utrecht achieved 80% success in matching permit holders with employers. This was a result of extensive preparation of both the employers and the permit holders (through expectation management, pre-information, preparation of candidates for the interviews, and the like).

Although asylum seekers being processed in Utrecht may end up in other cities, or indeed have their applications refused, the city firmly upholds a policy of activation from day one. This means involving the asylum seekers in different organised activities that have in sight their potential future integration into the local society, while also accounting for the potential that, Utrecht, or indeed The Netherlands may not be where they end up. Asylum seekers are offered English language classes and professional skills development courses – things that will be useful to them no matter what the outcome of their applications.

Utrecht takes a multifaceted approach to working together, focussing on local community, on social value in procurement, and on entrepreneurship and SMEs.

Together with locals

The progammeprogramme ‘Plan Einstein’ was developed by Utrecht together with the housing corporation for young people (SOCIUS), the Utrecht Centre for Entrepreneurship (Utrecht University), and the Utrecht Council for Refugees, the Utrecht People’s University and the Social Impact Factory. It inspires integration by providing services like housing and training to local people and asylum seekers together.

The asylum seekers centre and social housing for locals are attached to each other, with locals and asylum seekers sharing common spaces and participating on an equal footing in all activities. These include English language training and courses in entrepreneurship, as well as sports and cultural activities.

The benefits are manifold. Local uptake in activities is over twice as high as forecast, with locals making up 50% of all participants. Further, these locals progressed much faster in this programme comparing to other similar social programmes available to them. Among the refugees, it has spurred a greater wish to integrate – evidenced by the fact that Dutch language courses are oversubscribed, which is not the case in any other reception centre in the country.

Since the start of the project, surveys have shown a large increase in the neighbourhood’s perceptions of the reception centre and the refugees therein, with 6% remaining against it and 45% now feeling positive to very positive about it. 

Through social value in procurement

In Utrecht, procurement also has a social return. The Social Return Clause, added to all public tenders above €100,000, requires contractors to spend 5% of the contract value on activities with a social added value. This can be fulfilled by employing unemployed people and the young; placing orders with social work facilities; sharing knowledge, expertise, or resources; and collaborating with local initiatives.

This creates a vital eco-system allowing social enterprises to grow and ensures that public money is spent in a responsible way. The city hopes to spread this practice among other large organisations such as the university, housing cooperatives, health care centres and so on, as well as among other cities.

With SMEs through teaming up

Through the ‘Project Inspiration Plan’ run by the Lomax consultancy newcomers to the Netherlands are given assistance in starting their own business. This includes not only the asylum seekers who have a residence permit but also potential refugees, recognised refugees, and asylum seekers in the application process, as well as new Dutch citizens.

A person has to demonstrate entrepreneurial drive and skills through individual interviews. Lomax cooperates with the municipality in terms of identifying the individuals who could take part in the programme or finds its clients through word of mouth and social networks.

Participants are intensively supervised and supported in drawing up a business plan and starting a company, and coached in running a business. The programme employs supervisors who speak a range of languages so that participants can, for example, write their business plan in their mother tongue rather than in Dutch.

Because conventional credit channels are often not available to newcomers, some to take over existent, often locally owned SMEs which have a history of profit-making. This also helps the local economy as it provides a life-line to viable SMEs.

Growing together

Following on the study and mentoring visit with Brighton through Cities Grow, Utrecht is continuing to build on its migrant integration policy. Utrecht sees that procurement can be an even more powerful tool if migrants can be made aware about public contracts and how to tender for them. They also took on board the importance of networks for migrant entrepreneurs, and how encouraging such networks can be just as important as building the skills of individual entrepreneurs.

Organisations like the Sussex Interpreting Services, which helps migrants navigate public services, and the Brighton table tennis club, which promotes integration through sports, may also inspire parallel endeavours in Utrecht.