Are asylum seekers and status holders allowed to do volunteer work?

Volunteer work is a welcome way to spend the day for asylum seekers and status holders. It is also an easy way to get to know what it is like to work in the Netherlands. With a bit of luck this could be a way to getting a paid job. This is one of the reasons why the Dutch government  stimulates volunteer work both to people who are still living in an AZC and to status holders living in their own living space.

Refugees with a residence permit (statusholders)

Status holders are free to work in the Netherlands. This includes being able to do volunteer work.

For status holders there is no special volunteer declaration needed. However, you always need to discuss your volunteer work with your client manager at the gemeente so you don’t get problems with your ‘uitkering’.


Statusholders with their own living space usually receive social benefits (‘bijstandsuitkering’) from the municipality. The rules for volunteer compensation differ per municipality. In some cases the volunteer compensations you receive will be held in from your benefits. In general statusholders are allowed to keep a compensation of a maximum of €150,- a month with a maximum of €1.700 a year. This means that your benefits will stay the same as long as your compensations are below these amounts.

If you receive a compensation that is higher, you have to be able to prove that you have expenses related to the volunteer work. If you are not able to prove this the municipality will see your compensation as an income. The compensation will then be subtracted from your benefits.   All forms of income have to be passed on to the case and care manager (klantmanager)! This can be done both by telephone and in writing.

Volunteer declaration (vrijwilligersverklaring) for asylum seekers (not yet statusholder)

If an asylum seeker wants to do volunteer work at an organisation they will need to have a volunteer declaration from the UWV. With this declaration the UWV will test if there really is volunteer work being done. If this is the case the UWV will give out the volunteer declaration.

The criteria for volunteer work are:

–       The work being done usually is unpaid but most often travel expenses are reimbursed.

–       The organization is not looking for profits.

–       The volunteer work serves a general public interest.

Volunteer work without a volunteer declaration

If an organization lets asylum seekers do volunteer work without a volunteer declaration of the UWV? This means that they are violating the law labour of foreigners. The organisation will be fined for this. If an asylum seeker has a residence permit than a volunteer declaration is not needed. On the residence permit it will say: ‘labour freely allowed, no TWV needed’.

Compensation – asylum seekers and statusholders in the AZC

Asylum seekers and statusholders who are staying at the refugee camp, with legitimate residence, are allowed to receive a compensation for their efforts. Inhabitants of the COA-locations that do not have legitimate residence are not eligible for volunteer work and a possible compensation. The maximum amounts for compensation are €150 per month or a maximum of €1700 a year. For more information you can check the website of the tax administration. Pay attention: the compensation the inhabitant of the COA-location will receive has a negative influence on the amount of money they receive for food and living expenses (eet- en leefgeld). Therefore organisations can also consider giving a compensation in the form of gift vouchers or paying in kind.

Volunteer work and internships (or work experience placement), what’s the difference?

Volunteer work can be performed under the above set out conditions (the work being done usually is unpaid, the organization is not looking for profits and the volunteer work serves a general public interest). Volunteer work can NOT be performed for commercial/ for-profit companies.

Internships and work experience placements can be performed at commercial/ for-profit companies but under strict rules:

  • an internship plan;
  • support and evaluation.
  • Moreover, it is essential for intern activities to actually be carried out, and for the internship not to be a replacement of activities normally carried out by an employee. If the intern activities do not differentiate from regular activities sufficiently, the statutory minimum wage has to be paid.

For more info about internships and work experience placements, read this blog.