A Morass of Rules and Regulations: Dutch Immigration Policy

Nearly a month ago, the Dutch cabinet fell. Because of this, national elections will be held on June 9, 2010. Dutch immigration policy plays an important role in these elections, though there is no real debate on the matter. The immigration debate (or lack thereof) is controlled almost exclusively by Geert Wilders and his PVV.

A couple of days ago, ppk published his party profile of the PVV. One commenter remarked, “On immigration, the CDA/ VVD ideas a couple of Cabinets ago were novel and more creative compared to the rest of Western Europe.”

This pushed my buttons and I replied that I prefer to call it “illegal fascist xenophobic nonsense.” I don’t think fascist was the right adjective, but other than that I stand by my statement. However, especially the xenophobic part of my opinion regarding Dutch immigration policies embodies much more than merely language and cultural tests, and the income requirement. This post will list what I consider most important regarding Dutch immigration policy, how I think the implementation is horrible even if you do agree with the basic principle behind all of the rules, and to a lesser extent how I also think the principle behind some of the rules is improper.

How Hard Is It to Live With a Foreign Partner in the Netherlands?

The following list has examples ranging from easiest to hardest.

  1. EU citizens with a foreign spouse (nationality spouse is irrelevant). Example: a Romanian with a Mexican spouse.
  2. Highly-educated workers with a foreign spouse (nationality spouse is irrelevant). Example: an Indian ICT specialist with a Nigerian spouse.
  3. Turks with a foreign spouse (nationality spouse is irrelevant). Example: a Turkish citizen with a Turkish spouse.
  4. Non-EU citizens with a permit to live in the Netherlands with their foreign spouse. Example: a Moroccan living in the Netherlands with their Moroccan spouse.
  5. Dutch people with a foreign Western spouse. Example: a Dutch citizen with an American spouse.
  6. Dutch people with a foreign non-Western spouse. Example: a Dutch citizen with a Mexican spouse.

This list and the examples were taken almost directly from the Stichting Buitenlandse Partner (Foreign Partner Foundation) forums, but I didn’t feel right about the gender bias in the original (each example was a man wishing to live together with a woman), so I reworded it a little in my translation.

Conclusions Based On This List

Dutch people have less rights in their own country than EU citizens from any other country. I see no reason why things should be any different for Dutch citizens than for EU citizens.

Hurdles

Income

If you want to live together with a foreign partner you will have to make approximately €1,700 a month through a permanent employment contract (which I believe has to be for at least a year but don’t take my word for it). There are several issues with this:

  • This income requirement is rather high to say the least. Assuming that this is meant to cover monthly expenses, let me run down our monthly expenses on a monthly basis:
    • Rent (including water): €550/month
    • Gas (as in heating and cooking, not gasoline), electricity, Internet & public transport: €100/month
    • Food: €250/month
    • Insurance: roughly €1,800/year altogether, so €150/month
    • Money required for potential unexpected things, such as the washing machine breaking down: €100 (perhaps a little higher than necessary, but I would definitely not like to be short on money if something comes up)
    • Total: €1,150/month

This is a little lower than minimum wage, but not too much. Also note that we have a relatively low rent (at least for the amount of space we have available), and that this is for two people, so per person we have to come up with €600/month to be able to get around. For some foreigners (especially non-Western) this might not be very easy, placing the burden of coming up with sufficient money solely on the Dutch citizen. Roughly speaking the equivalent of minimum wage should be sufficient for this, however.

I emphasized equivalent because all of this only applies with a steady employment contract and lowering the income requirement would not fix this. A freelancer making equivalent or more money will not qualify. Someone with a fair amount of money in a savings account will not qualify regardless of whether they have the equivalent of the income requirement/month for a year or more on their savings account. To me it seems a safer bet to allow someone with €30,000 savings to live together with a foreign partner than someone who’s making €1,700/month but barely has any savings.

The main problem with this situation, regardless of whether you think €1,700/month is a fair minimum income requirement or not, is that it is only possible to qualify if you’re employed in a certain way. Your savings don’t count, your freelance income doesn’t count, nor can anybody vouch responsibility for your expenses if you’re not able to make ends meet. Especially the fact that savings hold no value whatsoever seems wrong to me on so many levels. Additionally, I think the partner’s savings should also be taken into account. If the Dutch citizen’s savings were taken into account without doing the same for the foreign partner’s savings, I imagine a workaround would be for the foreign partner to transfer the money to the Dutch partner’s account, but exchange courses and the like might make that a very costly endeavor if that were a necessity.

Cultural test

Potentially an interesting idea. As I said on ppk’s blog, “The message that we think gays and nudity are awesome and that you should perhaps reconsider [whether you want to live in the Netherlands] if you don’t like such things is perhaps a good one, but as far as I understand it, [the cultural test is] mostly a waste of time and money.” To expand on that, there are many questions in there that would be, broadly speaking, answered differently by people from different parts of the country and among different age groups. There is such a thing as Dutch culture, but it’s certainly not uniform enough to say that in situation X, you should always do Y. Worse, the “correct” answers to questions regarding the House of Orange-Nassau and Dutch colonialism have to be answered positively. Why are these in there at all? I couldn’t find the example test at the moment, but I looked at it a few years ago in NRC Handelsblad and on a site they linked to and I thought they were old-fashioned to say the least. Eric Krebbers describes my thoughts on the matter quite well. If you throw it in Google Translate you’ll get a reasonable idea of the kind of questions asked. Apparently one of the questions even assumes that immigrants will be appalled if they see gays kissing openly. I don’t recall seeing that question, but it’s certainly in line with what I do remember. One last thing: taking this test costs €350.

Residency Permit Request

If the foreigner passes the test, the residency permit can be requested. This costs €800. For this money, they’ll easily take much longer than half a year and then they might still reject you. This isn’t necessarily a hurdle, but it seems almost a complete waste of money on the part of the requester. How can they do this in other European countries for not even a tenth of this amount?

Driver’s License

Virtually no non-EU driver’s licenses are accepted in the Netherlands. An international driver’s license is accepted, of course, but after a year or so you’ll have to get a Dutch driver’s license. Now I can imagine that a non-Western license could be rejected on the basis that it’s not worth much, but I’d like to hear the reasoning regarding Western nations for sure. Anyway, rather than just getting a license (which is €50) you’ll thus have to take the required tests. That’s €25 for theory and €250 for the exam. Since you’ll have to know just what they’re looking for during the exam I imagine you’d have to take at least a few lessons, at about €40/hour. €400-500 would thus be my lowest estimate for this.

Total Costs

A simple addition of €350 and €800 totals at €1,150. Adding the costs of a driver’s license ups that to €1,500. In most or all other EU countries the same can be achieved for €100 or less. This is more than 10 times as costly and the IND (immigration and naturalization service) is also slower than most of its counterparts across the EU.

Legality

In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Article 16 of the UDHR reads:

(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family (emphasis mine). They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State (emphasis mine).

Probably more important to us EU citizens, the text of the UDHR is also implemented in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Specifically, article 9.

Article 9. Right to marry and right to found a family

The right to marry and the right to found a family shall be guaranteed in accordance with the national laws governing the exercise of these rights.

I am not a lawyer, but while Dutch immigration policy might potentially not be inconsistent with the letter of the law (one might argue that these rights are not obstructed because we can live together in any other EU country and America – I don’t know how valid such reasoning would be legally), it most certainly is not in accordance with the spirit of the law.

Conclusion

The current Dutch immigration policy is not implemented in a way that suits a modern, free-thinking democracy. Dutch citizens’ human rights are infringed and the financial burden related to merely requesting a residence permit for those wishing to live together in the Netherlands is over 10 times more than in other European country. Changes are necessary indeed, but not in the direction Wilders suggests.

2 Comments

  1. Ah, immigration laws…. and the ppl implementing the letter of the law….

    The daughter of a former colleague of mine married a Turkish young man, and it was months until he was allowed to come to Germany. This mainly went so “fast” cos someone who is very active in providing help for asylum seekers who face difficulties heard of their problems and gave them the number of some lawyer who was more into helping Turkish immigrants.
    I’ve been told the young couple had to come to some immigration office here in Germany and some German embassy in Turkey at the same times for interviews.
    Questions included everything from “What is the first thing you see when you enter his family’s house?” over silly stuff like “If you walk down the streets do you go side by side, or do you walk behind him? Do you hold hands in public?” to “none of your goddamn business” stuff like “What brand of underwear does he wear?”

    March 17, 2010 @ 19:58Permalink
    Melantrys

  2. The daughter of a former colleague of mine married a Turkish young man, and it was months until he was allowed to come to Germany. This mainly went so “fast” cos someone who is very active in providing help for asylum seekers who face difficulties heard of their problems and gave them the number of some lawyer who was more into helping Turkish immigrants.

    Compared to some stories I’ve heard, months is like a jet plane. Then again, that’s coming into Germany. Do you know anything about the time he had to wait for a working/residency permit after arrival or was that taken care of while waiting in Turkey? One thing I didn’t mention in my post: people first have to take this cultural exam at the Dutch embassy in or near their country of residence making people travel and waste time and money… especially if you know the opening hours of some of those consulates – the one in Chicago is only open from 09:30am – 12:30pm, for instance. Then again, they might be slightly more flexible or even more rigid for such exam stuff.

    Questions included everything from “What is the first thing you see when you enter his family’s house?” over silly stuff like “If you walk down the streets do you go side by side, or do you walk behind him? Do you hold hands in public?” to “none of your goddamn business” stuff like “What brand of underwear does he wear?”

    Such ridiculous questions aren’t limited to residency permits. If you go to the US (or nowadays also the UK) they ask similar, or at least equally ridiculous, questions. Admittedly, they didn’t ask anything about me or my wife’s underwear. Still, you’d think they’d be familiar with the concept of tourism.

    March 17, 2010 @ 20:41Permalink
    Frans

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