Many international students in the Netherlands are cut off from essential services, because they are unable to register at a legal address. By Dutch law, they can’t work, open up a bank account or even get a doctor.
“If you don’t have a BSN, you won’t exist here,“ a Groningen municipality information desk worker said. She added that this and last year their registration office has gotten a lot of visits from students who ask that same question: “What happens if I am not registered?”
Because of the housing crisis, finding a place to stay in the Dutch market can be difficult for foreigners. So many resort to illegally sublet apartments from people who leave their rented property for a couple of months.
Usually, apartments are sublet out illegally without the landlord’s permission and registering at the address isn’t possible. But sublet offers are commonly the only ones available.
In the student city Groningen alone, hundreds of international students started their studies homeless last year, The Dutch broadcaster NOS wrote. And the situation is getting worse as the population is increasing all over the country according to many sources.
So, although the subtenants are left without a citizenship number, they are somewhat lucky to get a temporary roof over their head. But this is where their luck ends.
If a person is staying in The Netherlands for longer than four months, they are required by law to register at a municipality, after which they receive a BSN number. This number is needed to get insurance, a doctor, a Dutch bank account, a job, all benefits and to earn a salary. Without an actual address to register at, everything mentioned is inaccessible.
“This is one of the biggest issues for international students,” said Joci, a student in Zwolle, who managed to overcome the difficulties and eventually found accommodation where registration was possible.
“No international student is prepared for this nightmare,” describes Sarah, a Ph.D. student in Leeuwarden. She had a lot of difficulties finding a permanent place to live and was stuck subletting without a BSN for months.
“I could not get an ID to extend my visa, I could not get a bank account,” she said and was close to moving back to her country outside the European Union.
Fortunately, Sarah got a fake address to register at. “A professor at my university let me use her address, it was a favor. Nobody else helped me,” Sarah said.
“He is not responsible for registration,” said housing minister Hugo De Jonge’s spokesperson Margot van Nistelrooij to The Groningen Observer. She pointed out that De Jonge with other public institutions involved have proposed a plan to build an extra 60,000 affordable student housing units over a period of 8 years in order to ease the situation.
Groningen’s registration office calmed unregistered students and claimed that students wouldn’t be deported, despite them not abiding with the law. They recommended not subletting and finding a place to stay legally outside the city.
* The names of the students in this story have been changed in order to protect them from getting evicted or having problems with previous landlords.