Let's take a look at some numbers first. This academic year there are 12,251 students at TU/e, of whom 1,761 (14.4 percent of the total) come from abroad. Of that group, 49.4 percent (870 students) comes from the European Economic Area (EEA) and 50.6 percent (891 students) concerns non-EEA students. In a small sample, Cursor asked the group of international TU/e students on Facebook who was financially affected by the corona crisis. A total of 85 people responded, of whom 62 reported experiencing financial loss. Two were EEA students and the others from outside the EEA.
If you are affected financially, how do you get help? It can already be a challenge for Dutch students to find out what they are entitled to, let alone for international students who have little or no knowledge of the Dutch language. Some documents are translated, but if there is an error in the translation, the Dutch version is always leading according to our law.
Salma Abdelsamie, bachelor's student of Architectural Urban Design and Engineering and secretary of the international student association Cosmos, recognizes the financial challenges of international students. She herself, coming from Egypt belongs to the international students as well, but she certainly hears more stories from members of Cosmos. “One problem was that many non-EEA students are not eligible for the type of support that the government offers Dutch students. For example, they cannot apply for funding or loans through DUO. Other possible governmental resources or support do not reach international students because of the language barrier, or they get lost in translation. My partner is Dutch and even for him it was not entirely clear what he was entitled to, let alone for internationals who cannot read complicated Dutch legal texts. A lot of information is available, but it is difficult to filter. A lot just washes over you. I really did my best to find information to help myself and my fellow students, but I have not succeeded so far.”
Payment by instalment
Rodrigo Cinelli Garrubbo, an Architecture student from Brazil, is also looking for ways to handle declining revenues and continue paying his bills. “It would be very nice if institutions such as the university or housing corporations/landlords could work together with international students and arrange something to make things less difficult at the moment. Perhaps the due dates for the payment of rent and other invoices could be postponed or they could agree on payment by instalment.”
Experience shows that housing corporations, but also private landlords are often open to a payment scheme, provided you actively bring it up yourself. So do not wait till you’re in over your head, but call your landlord directly to make arrangements for a payment scheme.
In addition to the lack of information about financial help, there are also challenges in earning income. Abdelsamie: “Some internationals have lost their side jobs and/or have a study delay. It is more difficult to make ends meet now. Just before corona I found a job at the Spar, but unfortunately that couldn’t go on. Soon the lockdown came, which made finding a new job very difficult. I also tried to start my own business, but had to stop because I couldn't go to the workshop to supply goods. Now I can only ask my parents for help. I cannot speak on behalf of those who are not as lucky to have their parents to turn to for help, or who have a bad relationship with their parents. If it wasn’t for my parents' support, I would have been helpless. I am curious how others deal with this.”
De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB, Dutch central bank) predicts more than 400,000 unemployed people as a result of the corona crisis. Most affected are the restaurant/café, hotel and tourism sectors. Certainly the first sector has always been very popular among students. If you had a side job and now no longer have one due to the corona crisis, you may be entitled to unemployment benefits (Dutch: WW-uitkering). Sometimes you are not entitled to this, for example because you had a flex contract (Dutch: flexwerker). The cabinet has launched a new financial support measure for those people. To qualify for this measure, you must have earned at least 400 euros in February and only half of that income or less in April. Are you eligible? Then you will receive a one-off payment of 550 euros per month for March, April and May. No distinction is made nationality-wise. The support measure is implemented by the UWV and you must report there if you think you qualify. This is possible from June 22, 2020.
Are you in financial trouble? Contact your student counselor, DUO or the municipality of your place of residence. In the most extreme case, you can apply for social benefits (Dutch: bijstandsuitkering) through the latter. Please note, this is only possible if you are not entitled to student finance and therefore cannot borrow money from DUO. This is generally the case for non-EEA students, although there are exceptions. If you submit an application for social benefits, you do have to actively look for work, which is often a challenge alongside an educational program. Work also has priority over studies if you receive social benefits, so if suitable work is found for you, you have to accept it. The municipality decides whether you are eligible for social benefits. Have you graduated and are you unable to find a job? Even then, you (also Dutch and EEA people after you have stopped your student finance) can try to apply for social benefits. If you are between the ages of 18 and 27, you must actively look for work for four weeks after applying.
Are you entitled to student finance from DUO? Then you can (retroactively) borrow extra money, to the beginning of the academic year. Not only Dutch students can claim student grants from DUO, EEA students can also make use of this, provided they meet the additional conditions. You can find the full regulations to see you qualify for student finance on the website of the National Government.
To qualify for student finance it means that you have the nationality of an EEA country or Switzerland and you can agree to at least one of the following statements:
- You work in the Netherlands for at least 56 hours per month;
- Or you have been living in the Netherlands for at least five years without an interval (short holidays don’t count);
- Or one of your parents has an EEA nationality and works in the Netherlands for at least 56 hours per month;
- Or your registered partner has an EEA nationality and works in the Netherlands for at least 56 hours.
Do you meet the conditions? Then you can apply for student finance if you have not already done so.
During these special times, it may of course be the case that a student loses his side job and can therefore (temporarily) no longer meet the 56-hour requirement for EEA students. This would mean for international students that they not only lose their side jobs and according income, but also their right to student finance. DUO says about this: “DUO is lenient with the 56-hour requirement, as long as the corona measures apply. Are you unable to meet the 56-hour requirement at the moment? Then DUO looks at the hours you worked before and after the measures.” In other words: the international students who use this option should not be afraid of losing their right to student finance by losing their side job.
Tuition fee compensation
Master's student of Architecture Vesta Tsao from Taiwan has a study delay in due to limited access to the labs of the TU/e. Lab testing is essential for her graduation project. “I was on schedule until corona came. I always try to plan ahead, but I couldn't foresee this. If you have a delay, you normally have to pay around € 1,600 for each additional month if you are a non-EEA student. I was very concerned about this, because 1600 euros per month is a lot of money. I spoke with the student counselor about a month ago. She told me that TU/e had devised a plan for non-EEA students and that I would pay the Dutch tuition fee for a maximum of three months delay. That is about 178 euros per month. That helps, but I thought I wouldn't have to pay at all because this is not my fault. The student counselor will contact me again in July and August to see if the delay is still on and if so, I have to reregister for the coming academic year. I have the feeling that international students are excluded of everything (the support measures, ed.) and nobody writes about these things. In my case, the Taiwanese government doesn’t contact me either, we are really in between two governments,” Tsao says.
In any case, there is a nice financial extra for all students who obtain their master's degree in the period from September 2020 to January 2021. They will all receive compensation for the tuition fees, including the EEA and non-EEA students. For students at TU/e, this is 535 euros. What do you have to do to receive this financial compensation? If you are already registered with DUO, you do not have to do anything and DUO will automatically transfer the amount to you. If not, it is wise to contact them. You will receive the amount no later than March 31, 2021.
Foreign money devaluates
"The economy of my country - Egypt - has been hit hard and the national currency has dropped in value," Abdelsamie says. And that’s the case for more internationals. “So it is not only that parents could lose their jobs - my mother is retired though - and therefore have less income, but it is also possible that the money they earn has become less valuable. There are many financial factors to consider in this crisis. And yes, I understand that as an international I have made the choice to come here. But this is a situation I would have never even dreamed of, let alone prepare for. A little sympathy is certainly appreciated because no one knew this would come.”
This is a situation I would have never even dreamed of, let alone prepare for. A little sympathy is certainly appreciated
Sina Khodabakhsh Reshad from Iran is studying Construction Management Engineering and had actually hoped to be finished with his program now, but unfortunately this is not the case due to corona. “Due to the current situation with all its uncertainties and the change in the entire working environment, I have been delayed for two months already. Moreover, the crisis has caused the value of the Iranian currency to fall even more than before, making my financial situation unstable. It is difficult to get the financial support of my parents available here in the Netherlands. Because of the sanctions that the US has imposed on Iran, it is not easy to transfer money. Many companies around the world cannot do business with Iran, which also applies to banks. If a bank does business with the United States, it will have problems if it also does business with Iran. I had an account with Rabobank that they wanted to block because I was not allowed to transfer money from Iran. ‘We don't want a euro in this account from Iran,’ I was told. Then I switched to ING, where it is a little easier but still difficult."
Before Corona, there was still the option for him to have a friend or family member take cash with them when they would come to the Netherlands. "But of course that is not possible anymore. I now have to search for people who work here, who can give me money and who are okay with my parents paying them back later. Because of the devaluation of the currency, you have much less euros after the exchange. My financial instability really worried me, so I contacted the university. I didn't know what to do and being financially unstable also put mental pressure on me, so I arranged an appointment with the student counselor, who told me that maybe a lower tuition fee will be set for the months that I have been delayed (meanwhile confirmed, ed.) I think it's fair to get some of our tuition back anyway because we don't use university facilities now. Non-EEA students pay 1600 euros per month, so a few months delay has a big impact. May and June were very hard for me. I prepared myself for my studies and financially factored in a delay of one to one and a half months. But when the crisis quickly worsened, I got concerned,” Khodabakhsh Reshad says.
Architecture student Cinelli is also affected by the currency decline: “Our currency has dropped from 4 Brazilian real (BRL) for 1 euro (which was already high, before 3.20 BRL was worth 1 euro) to almost 7 BRL for 1 euro! In addition, my parents also have a hard time there. My mother, a dentist, had a decrease of almost 80 percent in patients, and my father had to close an entire branch of his company. This combination of less work for my parents and the drop in the price of the Brazilian real is currently making it very difficult for us.”