Seek and you shall find: a job and a Dutch passport

ID alumnus Vimukthi Gunatilleke has some tips for other international alumni who also want to work in the Netherlands

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Seek and you shall find: a job and a Dutch passport

In a bright orange sweater, he immediately draws attention to the otherwise gray day in Eindhoven: Sri Lankan ID alumnus Vimukthi Gunatilleke. Now proud owner of a Dutch passport and a job here. You may remember him from the article in Cursor about looking for a job during corona. He was one of the students on a search year visa in times of lockdowns. Just before his deadline, he found a job in a very unexpected way. And happy as he is to live and work here, he decided to become Dutch. He has some tips for international students who are still looking for a job and want to stay in the Netherlands as well.

photo Yaël van Engelen

To be eligible for a work visa after a search year, you must find a job where your knowledge is considered essential (a job they can’t find a Dutch person for) and where you are paid a minimum salary of 2631 euros gross (reduced highly skilled migrants salary criterion for search year 2023, ed.). “The latter is often a challenge: many employers are not willing to pay that for a fresh graduate, certainly not for someone with a background in Industrial Design.”

Gunatilleke knows from experience. With 'only' a bachelor's degree, looking for a job was already a challenge to begin with: “I was often rejected because of that. They prefer people who have both a bachelor's and a master's degree. In addition, ID students from Delft are more popular than those from Eindhoven. Many employers want hard technical skills. These are less obvious for ID students than for students of, for example, mechanical engineering. The group of ID students is also very diverse. Nevertheless, I have tried to present my experience and skills properly.” But that just didn't seem enough and the end of his search year was approaching.

The people at his internship at the time really pushed Gunatilleke to simply call the recruiters. “That is somewhat unusual in my culture: you assume that he does his job. Making a call myself, I would be afraid I might ruin my chance at the job. But it was worth a try and it worked. They invited me for coffee! Unfortunately, due to the income requirement, I often turned out to be too expensive for a job without hard technical skills, for example as a marketing or communication employee, positions that can also easily find a Dutch person or European for. But through this internship I have at least learned to change my mindset a bit and to believe that being proactive makes you stand out in a positive way.”

That Saturday afternoon was the moment that everything would change

Vimukthi Gunatilleke
Alumnus ID

Then his uncle said that he should visit a friend of his who worked in Tiel. Maybe he could help him. “That Saturday afternoon was the moment that everything would change,” Gunatilleke recalls clearly. “While preparing lunch, the friend called his boss to ask if he needs any help. His reaction? ‘See me in the office in 20 minutes.’ The boiling pasta was quickly turned off and we hurried to the office of the overhead conveyor company. Something like Van de Lande, but above your head,” Gunatilleke clarifies the niche sector.

During the spontaneous job interview, Gunatilleke explains what he can do and tells the director that they could still use a marketing employee. The ID alumnus is up for it. The salary requirement is a tough one for the position, but a creative solution is around the corner: the director happens to own a lot of real estate in the immediate vicinity and Gunatilleke will have to move for his new job anyway. If he rents a room from his boss, part of the money will flow back to him. Happy end for all involved.

Mediocre is good enough

“It has been a great first full-time job and I've grown a lot as a person,” he says more than two years later. “At the end of 2021 I lived in the Netherlands for five years and took my integration exam. I wanted to pass this with flying colours, and I succeeded. Not a mentality of mediocrity for me, I always like to aim for 10 out of 10. My girlfriend laughed at me when I got a 9 and was a bit grumpy about it, for her that was already a very good grade. But I think there's a little cultural difference here. But don’t get me wrong, my Dutch is far from perfect, but I think it's important to have a willing mindset and to do my best to integrate well. Especially the step from A1 (European language level for beginners, ed.) to the necessary language level to work in the Netherlands is really tough. I wish I had taken language classes at TU/e earlier and put more time and effort in learning Dutch while studying at the university.”

I didn't mind to give up my Sri Lankan passport. I will never forget where I come from

Vimukthi Gunatilleke
Alumnus ID

“After my integration process, I applied for my Dutch passport as soon as I could. In order to get that, I had to give up my Sri Lankan passport. That wasn’t a problem for me: with my Dutch passport I can travel much more easily and I will never forget where I come from. I always take my roots with me.”

Passport as the best birthday present

Applying for a passport was a bit more expensive for Gunatilleke than for Dutch people: he had to pay 900 euros. “But that's worth it. I started a crowdfunding for my birthday, it seemed like a fantastic gift and fun for people to contribute to.” He was: he raised more than 700 euros with his crowdfunding. He had also read a lot about the pledge and the ceremony days that are reserved for this at the municipality. “I was looking forward to that moment. After months of waiting, I started to wonder whether my ceremony would be in February (2023, the process takes months, ed.), or rather in March.”

He decided to proactively call the municipality the same as he did to get his job. “It wasn't my turn yet, they told me. They had no specific date yet. But a few weeks later there was a sudden call from a number I didn't recognize. ‘Yes, with the municipality, can you come today at 2.30 pm?’ I found that very strange and it blocked me from inviting people who are important to me, but I dropped everything to go there. Finally I would get the ceremony that would make me Dutch. At the table the lady showed me the text of the oath. ‘Can you repeat that, then we’re done.’ Done? And what about the ceremony with the piece of cake? There's always cake, right? 'Mr Gunatilleke, at the municipality of Tiel we celebrate National Naturalization Day on December 15. Then you can have cake. Not today." Disappointed and happy at the same time, he walked out of the town hall.

Are you not yet in your search year (only applicable to non-EEA students, ed.), but do you want to stay here after your studies? Learn Dutch

Vimukthi Gunatilleke
ID alumnus

“Now that I am Dutch, doors opened that used to be closed. I can finally get my master's degree, something that I couldn't afford before. As a non-EEA student, this costs about 20,000 euros, now about 2,200 euros. Quite a difference. I will enroll in Strategic Product Design in Delft. When I look back on it all, I am especially thankful for the company that believed in me and gave me a chance. But I have always worked hard and exceeded my job description. I would recommend that to others as well. Undoubtedly, many students are looking for a job right now. My message to them: actively search from day one of your search year, don't wait and be proactive in your applications. Pick up the phone.”

Tips for other internationals

“Are you not yet in your search year (only applicable to non-EEA students, ed.), but do you want to stay here after your studies? Learn Dutch,” Gunatilleke says. “There are so many free Dutch courses at TU/e. Speaking Dutch not only helps you find work more easily, but also helps you connect with the Dutch, something that is often considered difficult. And are you in a creative program? Then make sure you can write down and convey your skills clearly. Practice to sell yourself. That is more difficult for an ID student than for those with hard technical backgrounds. And it’s just really important that you start believing in yourself. If you believe you can do it, so will your future boss.”

Finally, cake

Gunatilleke briefly looks down at his orange sweater. “I have seen how I have gradually become more Dutch. It’s in the way I look at things, in how pragmatic I've become. I now also enjoy introducing difficult topics.” He really embraced the Dutch directness. “Why would you beat around the bush when you can also go straight from A to B. When I'm back in Sri Lanka people consider me a bit rude, but I don't care, this is my Dutch side.”

After all this time he still hasn't had his cake, so Cursor spontaneously made that happen for him. After all, ‘het leven is een feestje, maar je moet wel zelf de slingers ophangen’ (life is a party but you need to hang the garlands yourself), an expression that Gunatilleke can now add to his Dutch vocabulary.

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