René Raaijmakers

30 November 2023

Over two million Dutch voters have expressed to refugees, migrant workers and knowledge workers that they’re not welcome in the Netherlands. In Veldhoven, with 26 percent of the vote, the PVV did slightly better than country-wide; in Eindhoven, the radical right-wing party still got over a fifth of the votes.

The Dutch election results have depressed the entire high-tech industry. All those talents from abroad, who make our companies not only stronger but also more interesting and innovative, have suddenly been made suspect by a quarter of our compatriots.

Knowledge migrants strengthen the Dutch economy. In the run-up to the elections, ASML’s top executive, Peter Wennink, made another attempt to stress their importance for his company. Last September, he told the current affairs show Nieuwsuur that two in five employees in Veldhoven come from outside the Netherlands. Two in three international students from Eindhoven University of Technology find work in our region. “We can’t keep our company, which employs 120 nationalities, afloat in Veldhoven without that international knowledge migration,” Wennink said.

In the run-up to the elections, I was reminded of three people. First, the immigrant who created the breeding ground for ASML. It was the brilliant Hans Joachim – Hajo – Meyer who fled Nazi Germany, learned banking in our country and, after the war, rose to become the highest research boss at the Natlab, Philips’ legendary physics lab. Meyer had the insight to merge the themes of optics and mechanics into one research group at the Natlab. In the 1970s and 1980s, this group was responsible for the critical inventions and developments that laid the foundation for Philips’ two greatest successes – the compact disc and the wafer stepper.

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Two other migrants I came to know as a tech writer are Moynul Hossain and Hamed Sadeghian. Hossain is from Bangladesh and came to our country via England. He started the successful software company Cimsolutions, which also serves the high-tech. Sadeghian has roots in Iran and is currently scaling up Nearfield Instruments. The sacrifices made by both men to make their dreams come true I saw in few Dutch entrepreneurs.

In the US, economists think the same way as they do at ASML. A few years ago, research indicated that America needs to significantly increase the annual influx of immigrants to win the race with China. “If you look at the numbers, the best way to put America first is to welcome newcomers,” Bloomberg quoted Justin Gest, co-author of the study, as saying two years ago.

Here’s my problem: although all true, I fear that only people within my own bubble appreciate these arguments. The same holds for Wennink’s words. He can say that his knowledge workers pay as much income tax as any other Dutchman and that the money made by the high-tech industry also trickles down to other sectors, but many fail to see that or experience it differently.

The reality is that people on bricklayers’, plumbers’ or barbers’ salaries don’t like it when they can no longer compete in the housing market with knowledge workers whose much higher salaries drive up the prices. You can legitimately argue that only 5-10 percent of vacant social housing goes to refugees who are allowed to stay, but it’s bitter for people to be on the waiting list longer if refugees get ahead of the line.

ASML is doing its best to address the problems. For example, it’s working with housing associations on solutions and paying for infrastructure projects. However, such sentiment is beyond the control of the Veldhoven company. If there’s anything that these election results show, it’s that the current problems run deep in the capillaries of society.

We, the high-tech industry, should recognize first and foremost that a large group of people feel abandoned. They need to be re-engaged. Tens of millions for low-cost housing is a nice gesture. It will help address that particular problem, but it’s not a solution to the dissatisfaction and resentment among a large segment of the population. Nice stories about successful migrants unfortunately don’t contribute to that either.

Main picture credit: Element5 Digital on Unsplash