Judge rules out Dutch citizenship tests abroad
The highest hurdle has gone: would-be immigrants who want to live with their partners or families in the Netherlands do not need to pass citizenship tests in their own country first. By Ralph Rozema
They no longer face a Dutch language test and difficult questions about society in the Netherlands. The change came about because of a ruling delivered by an Amsterdam court hearing a case brought by a Moroccan woman against the Dutch state.
The court's decision represents a precedent for the thousands of immigrants per year, including many from Turkey and Morocco, who apply for temporary residency on the basis of family reunion. Dutch citizens will also now be able to bring partners from Africa, Asia and Latin America to the Netherlands without their first having to pass the citizenship tests in their countries of origin.
Lawyer Leo Louwerse, who represented the Moroccan woman in the Amsterdam case, sums up the ruling:
"The court says there's no legal basis for forcing people to do the citizenship tests before coming to the Netherlands."
His client, who is illiterate, is expected to arrive in the Netherlands soon.
The lawyer believes the policy of citizenship tests abroad was a flawed measure.
"It was introduced to reduce immigration. Initially, the number of immigrants did go down because of the tests, but it's now back to the old level, at least if you look at residency based on family reunion."
Former immigration minister Rita Verdonk designed the policy to counter 'imported' brides from Morocco and Turkey, but the rules also affect many native Dutch people. The difficulty of the Dutch language test often means they cannot bring their partners from, for example, Africa and Asia home to the Netherlands. The Amsterdam ruling will now put an end to this problem.
Other conditions governing residency on grounds of family reunion will remain in force. This means that such immigrants must be able to support themselves and will not be allowed to receive unemployment benefit. This is another significant hurdle for would-be residents.
The citizenship tests form an especially difficult problem for poorly educated people from developing countries. Wanda Pelt, formerly of the Foreign Partner Foundation, says:
"Many are not used to self-study. There's a lack of local facilities and it's practically impossible to prepare yourself for the test".
People from richer countries have long been exempt from having to do the tests. They include those from other European Union countries, the United States, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Human Rights Watch calls this 'discrimination' and finds it reason enough to do away with the tests altogether.
The Dutch justice ministry is not happy with the Amsterdam court's ruling and is considering an appeal, which would have to be lodged within four weeks. If the case does go to appeal, the Amsterdam ruling will be suspended and citizenship tests abroad will, for the time being, carry on as before. Even if the court's decision that there is no legal basis for the tests were to stand, parliament could decide to change the law to provide the required legal basis.
However, Mr Louwerse is not going to be put off easily. He warns that
"The present ruling is a complex one. If the case goes to appeal, I'm prepared to take it to the European Court if my client agrees."
* RNW translation (mw)
[Copyright Radio Netherlands]