The expat center in the World Trade Center in Amsterdam Zuid is a transparent, largely glass office, full of typically Dutch views, such as canal-side houses and wide polder landscapes. The waiting room looks out on the Amsterdam Zuidas, the business area where various companies and multinationals are located. A view that gives the customers of the expat center a preview of what may be waiting for them. The expat center is a service center for highly skilled migrants, scientific researchers and their Dutch employers.
"Most customers have an appointment with us", Willeke explains. "At the front desk, they are given a clipboard that guides them through the expat center. In one visit they register in the Basic Registration of Persons (BRP), they obtain their citizen service number (BSN), and last but not least, they receive their residence documents."
The expat center therefore employs workers from various departments, such as the municipality and the IND. The expat center furthermore closely cooperates with the tax office, the social insurance center, and many other organizations that provide services to expats.
Willeke: "Working at the expat center we often think to ourselves: 'It's a small world'. For one minute an Indian IT professional stands before you complaining about the cold, and the next minute a business woman from New York smiles how comfortably warm it is in the Netherlands. Willeke says: 'Over the years, you learn a great deal about inter-cultural communication. We receive training in this, but the practicalities are learned on the job. Some expats prefer to bow rather than shaking hands. Some are distant, while others slide their chairs up close and take time for a personal chat."
Willeke enjoys her work at the expat center. "We normally only see customers whose applications have been approved. Our customers are normally very appreciative about the services provided by the expat center, and they sometimes explain to us that this level of service is not provided in every country they have lived in. The expats are enthusiastic about the system here, in which the residence permit is organised by the employer. It means that they only have to come into action after everything has been arranged. And that can save them some frustration."
The expats that have an appointment with Willeke come to collect their residence documents and to have their biometric data registered. 'This can sometimes be quite a bit of work, says Willeke. For example, for a large family. Or, like recently, when a very enthusiastic American boy kept pulling funny faces at the camera when his photo was being taken. 'It took quite some creativity, to distract him, and to quickly take his photo'. Willeke chuckles at the memory.
Willeke's customers come from all over the world. Yet, she herself doesn't travel much. "I don't like flying", she explains. Although she sometimes wonders if she should reconsider... She will never forget how an Indian customer once told her about the city of Calcutta, and how beautiful it is at particular times of the year. But if she's honest, Willeke estimates it unlikely that she would ever visit India. 'But I don't really need to travel the world', she laughs, "because the world comes to you at the expat center."