December 28, 2007

Various Work and Residence Permits in the Netherlands

Trying to find legitimate work as an American anywhere in Europe can be difficult. Right now, the Netherlands has a strong economy and low unemployment rate, and a lot of their business dealings are done in English. If I could get a work permit, I would have a pretty good chance at finding a job – even though I don’t speak Dutch.

I've mentioned this in earlier entries, but there's a basic order of how I need to do things in order to move to Amsterdam. Because I'm American, I do not need to apply for a visa (MVV, or Machtiging voor Voorlopig Verblijf). However, once I'm in Amsterdam, I need to apply for a residence permit. I'll need to have legal residence, proof of income, and a reason for living in Amsterdam other than the fact that I just like all the bikes. That's step one.

If I want a job in Amsterdam, I need a work permit, but how? I'm moving to Amsterdam on my own, just me and my US passport (and my aspirations to make documentary films, but that’s not going to pay the bills). Well, there is something called "de kennismigrant," or a "Knowledge migrant" permit. Expat Law sums up the requirements and rules for this particular permit:

Dutch employers are permitted to hire non-EU nationals without work permits if the following requirements are met:

1. The employer has enrolled in the IND Highly Skilled Migrant Program

2. The job pays a salary that meets or exceeds the minimum annual gross salary requirements which are based on the age of the employee. For 2007, the minimum annual salary requirement is €46,541 for employees 30 years of age or older, and €34,130 for employees younger than 30 years of age. The income criterion does not apply if the employee enters the employment of an educational or research institute as a PhD student, nor does it apply to post-docs and university teachers under 30 years of age.

There's also the Dutch-American Friendship Treaty, which basically means that Americans are welcome to move to the Netherlands to start up a (profitable) business. "In contrast to other non-EU nationals who want to work in the Netherlands on a self-employed basis, Americans applying under the treaty do not need to satisfy the 'essential Dutch economic interest' test which is applied to non-EU businesses." There are a lot of requirements to meet, of course, including having at least €4,500 ($6,622 USD) in cash. Again, it's kind of nice to know that this exists, but I don't know if it would really help me. Under the rules of the Dutch-American Friendship Treaty, "self-employment activities are only permitted in connection with the business plan." I wouldn’t be allowed to work for other employers (legally). If I get to the point where I want to start a production company, it's great to know that this Treaty exists... but I don't think I'm quite ready for that now.

What I would like to find is some kind of rule that allows me to live in the Netherlands while freelancing for American clients. When I move to Amsterdam in April, I will have enough in savings to get by for a while. According to
The Ministry of Social Affairs & Employment for the Netherlands
, the gross minimum wage for everyone over the age of 23 is €1,317 a month (that's $1,938 USD). What if I could prove that I could make that on my own, from American clients? That's only $485 a week. I guess that wouldn't really help me in terms of getting a work permit in Amsterdam, but I wonder if it would help at all in getting a residence permit, at least for a year.

It's so hard to imagine how people learned about all this stuff before the internet.

December 20, 2007

Finding an apartment in Amsterdam

I know that once I'm actually in Amsterdam doing the apartment search, I might look back at what I'm about to say and think that I'm insane. I'm kind of excited about looking for apartments in Amsterdam.

Anyone who does about five minutes of research on living in Amsterdam finds out very quickly that it's "impossible" to find an apartment. There's a huge housing shortage, the Netherlands is a small and overcrowded country, people are on waiting lists for years and years to get a place, etc.

But I'm telling you, spend two years in Paris and then over a year in New York City (in two different apartments), and the thing that will excite you is the fact that renting in Amsterdam isn't that expensive. It's not cheap, don't get me wrong. However, I've been combing through ads on a million different websites and one thing remains clear: for what I pay to live in crappy neighborhood in Brooklyn ($650 USD/453 Euros, plus utilities), I could live in a bigger, nicer apartment in Amsterdam. I'm not planning to find my own apartment; instead I'll try a flatshare situation so that I have roommates. Even that excites me - I have great roommate history and I would like to live with some other international types.

The state of the US dollar is an unfortunate issue. Two years ago $650 was more like 530€. Ouch.

Here in Brooklyn, people think that I'm lucky that I found a place so cheap. Again, I want to emphasize that my neighborhood isn't very nice and my apartment is very small and very run down - I don't even have windows in my bedroom. I know that finding a room for 450€ in Amsterdam won't be simple, but it's possible. It wouldn't be remotely possible in Paris at all. Since Amsterdam is such a small city compared to what I'm used to, I don't feel the need to be right in the center. It's such a short bike ride to get anywhere, and other than the two years I spent living in Philadelphia, I've never felt the need to live right in the middle of everything.

Just today I saw an ad for a room - 16 sq meters, 550€ a month, near station Vlugtlaan, and it included those lovely key words - registration possible. If I want to live legally in Amsterdam, I need a residence permit. And to get that permit, I need a legal residence. Technically I'm supposed to have the address pretty much the day I step in the country and apply for the permit with 8 days, but I don't think that is realistically going to happen. Instead I'll stay with a friend in Amsterdam and give myself three months (for three months I can just be there with a passport) to find a place. When the time comes to apply for the permit, I'll say "of course, I just moved to Amsterdam two days ago. I arrived from Paris and came to Amsterdam in a car." Since I'll be flying into Paris, I'll have the plane tickets as proof (if necessary).

This is going to be an interesting experiment. Will finding an affordable room in Amsterdam REALLY be more difficult than finding an affordable room in NYC or Paris? I'll find out this spring!

Slightly off-topic, but important: Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic are becoming part of the Schengen area, which means that there is now a 24-nation border-free zone in the European Union. This is good news for anyone traveling in Europe!

December 12, 2007

Inspiration from Philadelphia

This past Saturday (December 8) I was running (well, biking) all over Philadelphia from one event to another. I started off at Molly's Bookstore in the Italian Market, where Big Tea Party was having their 10th-anniversary celebration and fundraiser. They had a great crowd come out, and the small bookstore was packed with activists, artists, filmmakers, musicians, etc.

I was happy to see someone I knew from back in the day, Ellen, come in to the room. As we started talking I caught her up on what I'm up to (living in Brooklyn and working in TV post-production) and what I'm planning in the near future. Part of me remains a little scared that that no one will take me or my plans seriously, but I shouldn't have been worried about something like that while I was at a fundraiser for an anarchist cooking/crafts/activist show. So I began talking in more detail about why I want to live in Amsterdam and the documentary that I want to make - and Ellen's response is "I did that exact same thing!"

I'm going to guess Ellen is about 40 years old. When she was younger, she decided to move to Paris with her boyfriend for no real specific reason (hey, me too!). Then she took a 3-day trip to Amsterdam, fell in love with that city, and relocated. She stayed for about five years, had her son there, and had a great story about living on a houseboat. She's currently a video production instructor in Philadelphia and also makes her own documentaries. Both of us shared pretty much the exact same views on why Paris is great but we don't want to live there and why Amsterdam is such an appealing city. As I talked in a little more detail about exactly what I want to do with the documentary, a guy says "sorry, I don't mean to eavesdrop, but I heard you were talking about Sarajevo - I did some shooting (with a camera, just to be clear) there in the past." So now I'm in this amazing conversation with an American documentary filmmaker who has lived in Paris and Amsterdam, and this guy who has experience shooting throughout Sarajevo, and they're both telling me that I should absolutely move back to Europe and make my documentary. "How old are you, if you don't mind me asking?" the guy (whose name I forget, dammit) said.

"28," I replied.

"Oh, you're still a baby! Of course you have to do this," was his response.

In my head, I silently thanked him for thinking of me as someone who is still a kid. Every so often I get an irrational fear in my head that I have waited too long, that I should have been out there when I was 18 years old. I should know more languages and I should have traveled to more places by now, and maybe it's too late and I should just stay in New York City and work myself into the ground trying to become a bigshot in TV production. But then I attend events like the Big Tea Party fundraiser, and I'm surrounded by people like Elizabeth, who will be celebrating her 50th birthday this year and is still just as passionate and daring as any 18-year-old. These people are still traveling, still protesting, still activists, and still have time to encourage me to do the same. I feel very grateful to have such amazing role models in my life.

It's always been hard for me to be patient, but I really want to do it right this time around. This is the good part about being 28, and not 22 - I simply know a little more now. I know that my first priority in Amsterdam must be figuring out a way to live there legally with a proper residence permit. I know that is going to be very, very difficult. The first few months I'm there - well, I have no idea what it will be like, but it won't all be sunshine and roses and bike rides and apple strudels. There will be mountains of paperwork, bureaucracy rules that I'm not used to, and the very real fact that I don't have a lot of friends living there right now that I can lean on for support. But when I do have all my paperwork in order and I've obtained the residence permit and gotten myself a place to live (and I don't doubt that I will be able to do all of that), I'm sure I will have made a few more friends along the way, and I'll toast to the next phase in my life.

December 7, 2007

Talking about another city that is below sea level

This post doesn't have much to do with moving to Amsterdam. If you've been following this blog than you probably noticed I've been writing a lot about the documentary I want to make (which is a huge reason for my move to the Netherlands). My inspiration to be a documentary filmmaker only grows stronger when I watch films like Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke. Though Hurricane Katrina is at the center of the story, it's really a film about New Orleans and how that city fits in to the rest of the United States. And that being said, it's a film about the United States that I don't think the rest of the world has ever really seen before.

I was visiting the US (from Paris) and staying with friends in Philadelphia when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. I consider myself someone who is relatively familiar with NOLA as a visitor. I've been there three or four times, never to just be a tourist, but always because I had friends who lived there. I've stayed in the real houses and apartments, I knew how to get around, I had my favorite bar (The Funky Butt, which closed several years ago), I knew where I liked to shop, etc.

Watching Katrina destroy New Orleans on the news broke my heart. I knew what it meant to have stagnant water just sitting there in a city that is already below sea level. I thought about the disgusting humidity that all Southerners deal with in the late summer, the mosquitoes, the rats, the snakes.... I knew that NOLA had pretty much become an open sewer. Everyone I knew in New Orleans had air conditioning, even if they lived in a run down, cheap, tiny studio apartment and were making minimum wage. There was just no way to survive that heat and humidity without it. Obviously, the electricity was down for days after Katrina, so there was no relief from the heat. The heat... god, I remember being in New Orleans in the summertime and taking three or four showers a day, changing my clothes all the time, and feeling exhausted just walking down the street to the next air-conditioned restaurant. It can become sweltering - average temperatures for August are 90 (32 celsius), and the humidity often makes it feel like it's over 100 (over 37 celsius). Imagine that type of environment buried under water so deep that it covered houses. It became absolutely toxic.

When I got back to Paris in early September 2005, all of my friends - or even just people in the neighborhood who knew I was American (like the guy who worked at the fruit & vegetable market I frequented) - asked about Katrina right away. They all said the same thing "But... really? Is it really that bad? Are you okay? Did it happen near you?" Their concern was absolutely genuine. Then they would say "But how did it happen? I mean, it's the USA, you are a rich country...and it looks like the whole city was just destroyed.. How is that possible? Are people really left for dead in the street? In the US?"

Yes. THAT is the real United States. That is what my non-American friends don't see in Hollywood movies or on MTV or read about in magazines. People walked for miles and miles in the sweltering heat without food or water to try and leave the city on foot if they didn't have a car... and were told AT GUNPOINT to turn around and go back. Dead bodies of humans, dogs, rats, etc., were left wherever they fell for days. Almost makes it sound like a war, huh? Especially when the media started calling the millions of people - the millions of American citizens who lost their homes - "refugees." The dictionary definition of a refugee is "a person who flees for refuge or safety, esp. to a foreign country, as in time of political upheaval, war, etc."

Political upheaval, war, etc. I guess "a bad hurricane that everyone knew was coming" falls under "etc." This wasn't exactly a surprise. The hurricane was a category five. Scientists knew the levees could break.

Come on! How are we one of the richest countries in the world, with a super powerful army, big enough to go in and invade/occupy other countries, important enough to world politics so that our presidential election is front page news all over the world... how can all that be true, yet we can still call well-educated, tax-paying, American born and raised citizens "refugees?" Well, maybe it's because as I watched these people try to get the bare necessities for survival (food, water, shelter), I realized they couldn't. Maybe because they weren't free to walk across a bridge on American soil, from one town to the next. Maybe because after days and days of being trapped, when people did get out on planes they had no idea where they were flying. Maybe because ... there wasn't much difference between New Orleans residents in 2005 and real refugees in war-torn countries.

The way the US federal government failed to react to Katrina did not surprise me a bit. But I can understand why other people just simply didn't get it, especially if they've never been to the US. I understand the confusion. This documentary explains the history, explains the storm, and shows the aftermath with brutal honesty. My eyes kept welling up with tears when I wasn't fuming with anger.

When the Levees Broke was released by HBO in December 2006. I don't know why I waited so long to watch it, and if anyone reading hasn't already seen this film... put it at the top of your priority list. And if you have already seen the documentary... stay angry.