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A bakery job in Nijmegen, the possibility of legal work — and no.

I got a job at a bakery in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and worked there from August 2003 until January of 2005.

I started with only one shift per week — Thursday afternoons, when the bakery was closed and nobody would see me working. This was a matter of discretion, a precaution we took because I could not work legally.

A_, the owner, was interested in finding a legal way for me to work there.

The work expanded a little bit, but not much. I didn't earn much money, but enough to survive, in the tiny room where I lived with a girl I'd met in Ireland.


In March of 2004, I made a return to Kilkenny, Ireland. I had a plan — to save money; go to America; and from there apply back to Holland for legal residence. Not much of a plan; more of a "do something" action.

But after a month-and-a-half in Kilkenny, K_ asked me to come back to Nijmegen, and I did.

When I stopped in at the bakery to say hello to A_, he asked me if I would like my old job back. He also talked about a new possibility — one that could lead to legal status for me in The Netherlands.

A_ told me that his partner was likely to attend a nursing School in the autumn. A_ would need to hire a full-time morning baker, so that he could look after their two infant daughters.

If I had a job contract, I could apply for legal residency.

First, I would need a work permit. The Immigration Service* refered us to the employment bureau, Centrum voor Werk en Inkomen, or CWI, and said that CWI would have to approve my case before we could discuss permission to stay in the country.

CWI made a list of demands. Primary to their interests was that A_ offer preference to a jobseeker from within the European Economic Area. That's a big area; and had just gotten much bigger with Poland newly acceded. There may be ways to finesse this goal, though, and we decided it was worth a try.

• In early May, A_ placed a number of advertisements in the different venues recommended by CWI.

• I sent a letter to A_ "inquiring" about work; along with a résumé (cv.)

• In August, the long wait for action culminated in a flurry of paperwork and exchange of letters.

On Monday, the 9th, A_ received a letter from CWI. I haven't a copy of that text. Its contents are suggested by A_'s response, posted on 11 August. (A_ plays up the complexity and difficulty of the job; implying that I was uniquely [or at least unusually] qualified; and he defends his efforts to advertise widely, giving examples.)


A_ got a letter back from CWI on 17 August:

"According to article 10, a work permit may be provided 'with conditions....'"

"The employer during the time [during which this permit is valid] performs an active and real search effort. The search shall be directed at replacing the foreign worker with a worker who does not require a permit...."


Meanwhile, the breakup with K_ was proceeding miserably, and I was damaged. Torn inside with real love and angry disgust and frustration, my baking was not in top form.

I made several errors that embarrassed me, and did not likely encourage anybody's confidence in my ability to do good work.

The chance for legal work and residence in Holland was, in a sense, a great opportunity for me. I love the country, that's for sure.

There were caveats, of course. I loved being near K_; but all was not well between us. Well, we were separated — who stays in a country for an ex-girlfriend? She, still partly dependent upon me, fought against me and pushed me distant, keeping me close.

Besides that, I was up against suppositions — those of A_ as well as those of K_. I came to feel that I didn't have much desire to fight against these.

The job description, too, seemed to gain a more nefarious aspect. Long, early hours, little money.... Beholden to an employer by dependence upon him (anybody) for my legal status... that's not good....

• On the 22nd of August, A_ sent another letter to CWI. In this letter, he agreed to continue and to broaden his search for a candidate from within Europe, and he laid out a few reasons why it is so difficult to find a qualified job-seeker.

• On Tuesday, 2 September, a work permit arrived at the bakery.

As it happened, I had wanted to speak with A_ about the chance that I could make a trip to Ireland for a visit, for a bit of relaxation before we got to work, if we were going to do so.

He had something to talk with me about. He showed me the work permit, which I had spied lying on a freezer-top.

But he told me that we weren't going to use it.

There were too many conditions attached, he said. A half-year work permit, after which he'd have to show he'd tried his best to replace me with a European. The risk for him was too great. Well, he didn't say it that way. Indeed, A_ did not communicate with me well at all, and in fact I think that's why I became somewhat angry about the turn of events.

I understood better afterwards, of course.

At the time, I even wondered whether or not I had a right to the job. I had a contract, after all; although we had written and signed this as a "play" to CWI, it was in form a legal document. Signed and dated, and all.

But, no. In the end, I found I hadn't the spirit of fight in me, and accepted that I would not avail of the job contract, nor the work permit; and that I would no further pursue the chance to become a legal Dutch resident.

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I remained in Holland until the turn of the New Year.

K_ found a new steady boyfriend at Christmastime. I wandered streets, unsure what I'd do. An acquaintance from Kilkenny rang me, by coincidence, a few days later. I was telling him something about K_, and he interrupted me — "Steve. You're single? Come to Kilkenny."

And so I went there.


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* Not everyone would consider immigration enforcement a "service." Nevertheless, the Dutch use the same term as the Americans — "Immigratiedienst," in het Nederlands.

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