‘Expat tax benefit’ in jeopardy: what are the consequences?

Expats in the Netherlands, among whom are many scientists, are cross and consider going to court now that the government wants to take away their tax benefit. What is going on?
Hoger Onderwijs Persbureau

© Pieter Beens /

Various attempts were made to make the government change their mind, but despite the tens of thousands of signatures and a letter from Dutch employers (article in Dutch), the measure was still included in the budget on Prinsjesdag. As such, the ‘30% facility’ will almost certainly (article in Dutch) be abolished. And no, no exception will be made for scientists, as the universities and universities of applied science would have liked to see happen.

What are the consequences, and can the measure be rolled back? Eight questions regarding the tax benefit for international staff members.

1. Remind me, what was that 30% facility?

Highly educated staff members from abroad receive a 30% exemption on their income tax for the first eight years. This is to compensate for their additional costs such as moving to the Netherlands and additional accommodation costs. The measure only applies for expats with a substantial salary (the level can vary) who have a specific expertise that is scarce in the Netherlands. The government uses this measure to make the Netherlands interesting for companies and foreign experts.

2. What is going to change?

A report (document in Dutch) from 2017 that was requested by the Ministry of Finance stated that the measure works but could be applied somewhat more frugally. The government therefore wants to reduce the duration of the benefit from eight to five years as of 2019, without any transitional arrangement for expats who already live in the Netherlands.

3. Why are the expats cross?

The expats are hurt by that last part especially. They counted on the benefit when they decided to move to the Netherlands; they think that the government is not keeping to its agreements and possibly even violates human rights.

4. Violate human rights?

Yes; article 1 of protocol 1 in the European Convention on Human Rights, to be exact, which concerns the protection of property.

5. Is it really that bad?

It is according to them. Their website contains dozens of stories of people and families who will be put at a financial disadvantage, like Carla from Portugal. She likes her work as researcher and lecturer at the university so much she recently bought a house in the Netherlands. But if the measure is implemented, she will not be able to pay off her mortgage and will have to look for work abroad. ‘If the Dutch government deceives me like this, I would retain a very bad general impression of the country.’

6. What do the expats intend to do now?

United Expats of the Netherlands has raised almost 45 thousand euros in just one month through crowdfunding. The expats are now obtaining legal advice from a law firm, which will investigate whether the government is breaking the law with the sudden change in legislation. This ‘legal opinion’ is expected next week and could be the fundament for a possible court case. The expats also hope that the measure will not get through the House of Representatives.

7. What is the opinion of companies on the matter?

Employers do not like it one bit.

8. What about universities and universities of applied sciences?

Neither do they. Universities fear that foreign scientists will avoid the Netherlands. ‘The 30% facility allows universities to be competitive in the higher scientific positions in particular. International top talent keeping away from the Netherlands would have a major impact on our scientific output’, they wrote in a letter. According to the Association of Universities VSNU, one in three scientists at Dutch universities hails from abroad. These are often young researchers with a relatively low income who could now live in the Netherlands without the 30% facility. VSNU made a proposal (document in Dutch) for a transitional arrangement in September, but to no avail.

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