Immigrants take a detour
There's a new way to become a legal resident of the Netherlands. It's called the Europe route, and it makes clever use of two aspects of European law: the freedom of movement within the EU, and liberal family unification laws in neighbouring countries.
Opposition parties in the Dutch parliament think too many people are abusing the so-called Europe route, and would like the government to do more to stop it. Sietse Frietsma, an MP from the right-wing Freedom Party, says,
"Unfortunately those immigration entry criteria that we still have are childishly simple to get around. That happens via the Europe route."
The Europe route is not really so new, actually. It has been available at least since 2004, when the EU brought in ten new members, and for the original member countries much longer.
But immigrants to the Netherlands only started making use of the Europe route when Dutch law became more strict under the last government in 2005.
Freedom of love
Many don't see anything wrong with immigrants using the Europe route to get a Dutch residency visa. Green Left MP Naima Azough even sees it as a fundamental right, saying,
"This isn't fraud. It's not abuse. It's immigrants making use of the same rights a Frenchman, an Italian or a Pole has in the Netherlands. Freedom of movement, or in other words, freedom of love."
This is how it works. A naturalised immigrant in the Netherlands is having trouble getting papers for a partner or child. He or she rents an apartment in Belgium for six months, invites the family member or partner to Belgium, and arranges the paperwork there.
The laws in Belgium, in particular, are less strict than in the Netherlands. Age limits are more supple, income demands for an immigrant lower, and application costs are much lower. The couple or family then move back to the Netherlands, which is obliged to recognize the Belgian decision to grant a residency visa.
Not clear how many
In the last few years, more and more immigrants have been getting legal status in the Netherlands this way. It's just not clear exactly how many. Sietse Fritsma from the Freedom Party estimates that about 1,500 immigrants get legal status this way every year. The Immigration and Naturalisation Service only began recording data on Europe route immigrants last year.
The Justice Ministry did release initial estimates of how many immigrants from outside the EU got residency in the Netherlands on the basis of partnership. In 2005, there were 350; in 2006, 240 and in 2007, 490. But it's not clear if these figures are complete.
Deputy Justice Minister Nebahat Albayrak has commissioned a scientific study to find out exactly who is making use of the Europe route, and why. While she wants to combat actual fraud, Ms Albayrak says we should not lose sight of the principle underlying the discussion.
"You can't have a debate like this without going back to the fact that the Netherlands was one of the founders of the European Union. At that time, this country argued for, and obtained, freedom of movement in Europe."
Freedom of movement has become one of the core values of the EU. And of course the Netherlands would never dispute this principle.