In 1956, the Netherlands and the United States of America signed the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation, which became known as the “Dutch-American Friendship Treaty”.
Article II of the Treaty provides that:
1. Nationals of either Party shall be permitted to enter the territories of the other Party and to remain therein:
a) for the purpose of carrying on trade between the territories of the two Parties and engaging in related commercial activities;
b) for the purpose of developing and directing the operations of an enterprise in which they have invested, or in which they are active in the process of investing, a substantial amount of capital.
Subparagraph b) means that even if you have a business that is not necessarily involved with trade between the US and the Netherlands, but you are a US citizen who has invested a substantial amount of capital in a Dutch business that you want to run, you can get a right to remain in the Netherlands: a long-term visa called a “residence permit”.
What is a substantial amount of capital? In 1956, a substantial amount of capital was 10,000 Dutch guilders, and the government of the Netherlands has never seen fit to revise this interpretation, meaning that it’s 4500 euros in today’s money. As long as you can maintain that amount of equity (i.e. invested assets minus outstanding debts) in your Dutch business, and as long as you maintain some level of activity with your Dutch business, you will be allowed to stay in the Netherlands for the purpose of self-employment. You will not be subject to the strict (and nearly impossible to satisfy) “scoring system” to determine the value of your business to the Dutch economy that most other non-EU citizens have to satisfy.
Over the years, the courts have clarified the right of self-employed persons (i.e. entrepreneurs) and their family to stay on the basis of the Friendship Treaty:
– They do not have to satisfy the usual requirement of Dutch immigration law of proving that they make enough income to support themselves (2002)
– The business does not necessarily have to be a “bricks and mortar” business, and can be based on the owner’s own intellectual abilities (i.e. the Treaty works for freelancers too) (2010)
– Because the Treaty guarantees the Russian spouse of an American entrepreneur the right to join his husband in the Netherlands, the normal requirement of Dutch immigration law that he must first return to Russia to apply for a preliminary visa cannot be imposed on him if it would be unreasonable to do so (2012, case won by Jeremy Bierbach)
– Because the Family Reunification Directive provides that a family member must have the same right to work as the person she is dependent on, the Lebanese spouse of an American entrepreneur must also have a residence permit that clearly says “Work in self-employment permitted”, so that she will have no problems working in her and her husband’s shop (2016, case won by Jeremy Bierbach)