Travelling the rocky road to naturalisation

28th August 2006, Comments 0 comments

Sueli Brodin's tale of her quest to obtain Dutch citizenship.

Sueli Brodin - her application was almost rejected

In December 2003, the town hall officer phoned me to inform me that my file was in order. She had checked with the IND if my Dutch language credentials were acceptable and the answer had been positive. As I paid the application fees of EUR 330, I was warned not to expect any decision before about a year, because there was a long backlog at the IND.

Dealing with the IND

A year and a half later, in May 2005, as policy towards foreigners had become even harsher, I had still not received any news about my application, so my husband called the IND to enquire about my case.

The answer came as a great shock: “Most regrettably, your spouse’s application has been lying on the desk of an officer who is away on a long-term sick leave and the file has not been reviewed yet”. Fortunately, the IND officer added: “We will now put her application on a priority list”.

Just before the summer, I received a worrisome telephone call from my local town hall officer: "The IND is now examining your case and it appears that the documents you have submitted are not valid. This could even mean that your application will be rejected."

This conversation marked the beginning of a frustrating and unpleasant period during which my husband and I tried to understand why exactly my application was being questioned.

It took us many phone calls to the IND, including to the complaint desk, and a letter of protest to Rita Verdonk herself at the Ministry of Justice to finally obtain an answer that enlightened us on the matter: "Ms Brodin's Dutch language titles are not valid documents for the naturalisation procedure. They are certificates, and we need the word 'diploma'. Furthermore, Ms Brodin's residence permit is a labour-based residence permit, it is not a valid residence permit for a non-active person. She should have changed her permit when she stopped working".

The situation seemed absurd. But all our arguments were dismissed and we realised that there was no point in contending against such bureaucracy. For our own peace of mind, we decided to comply with the IND's demands. I paid an extra EUR 55 to sit a new Dutch language exam called "Dutch as second language" (at a lower level than my Dutch as first language Havo certificate) and applied for a new residence permit, although the one I had submitted was technically valid until 2007.

Luckily, being an EU citizen, I was able to get a European permit for only EUR 28. With a non-EU passport, a new permit would have cost me around EUR 420!

From the moment we started doing as asked, things went quite smoothly. By that time we had finally managed to obtain the name of the officer in charge of my case at the IND and she said she was willing to postpone any decision about my application until I would present her with new proper documents.

One morning in January 2006, the telephone suddenly rang. It took me a few seconds to realise that it was the IND officer. She was calling me to give me the good news: my application for naturalisation had been approved and had been sent for further validation to "her Majesty the Queen".

The IND officer was warm and friendly: "I usually don’t call applicants myself," she said, "but I wanted to inform you personally about this positive decision." Her kind words caught me by surprise: "I regret that you have had to wait so long and that things have been so complicated," she said, "but I am very pleased for you about this satisfactory outcome and I sincerely wish you all the best in the future as an official citizen of the Netherlands." Memorable words!

I soon received a letter confirming the news and twelve weeks later, another letter informed me that I had officially become Dutch on January 26, 2006.

Naturalisation Minister Rita Verdonk - the ceremony is her brainchild

German blood

On Thursday, 24 August, my husband and children accompanied me to the Naturalisation Day ceremony at the Province of Limburg. We were cheerfully welcomed by two representatives of our municipality, one of whom I happen to meet regularly at the local gym. All of us new "naturalisandi en optanten" - as new Dutch citizens are apparently called in the official jargon - and our guests were first treated to a nice cup of coffee and a generous piece of Limburg "vlaai" before entering the imposing Statenzaal, where the representatives of the Province usually gather. It was a beautiful setting with a magnificent view on the Meuse river.

The Mayor of Valkenburg aan de Geul gave us a very cordial speech. He was wearing an orange tie especially in our honour, he said, because in his view the orange colour, maybe even more than the blue, white and red colours of the Dutch flag, was the true symbol of the Netherlands. He assured us that we were all welcome in this country, and especially in Limburg, where the population is ageing rapidly and in dire need of new inhabitants who will hopefully make children and bring new youth and energy to the region.

Our different cultural and linguistic backgrounds were valuable resources, he said. He seemed to be aware of the bureaucratic obstacles some of us had had to overcome in recent months because he praised our steadfastness and determination, saying that these qualities were going to prove strong assets to the Netherlands as a whole and to Limburg in particular.

All new citizens were offered a Dutch flag and invited to listen to – and possibly sing - the Dutch national anthem. But reading the words of the Wilhelmus, I felt uneasy about claiming that I was "of German blood" and as an agnostic, I was not inclined to make any type of appeal to "God, my Lord". In my opinion, becoming Dutch did not have anything to do with my blood and did not imply adopting any type of faith. Instead, I would have preferred making some sort of pledge to the principles of democracy, equality and freedom, which are dear to the Dutch and to which I also subscribe.

But nevertheless it was a fine ceremony and I appreciated the efforts of the Province of Limburg and the various municipalities taking part in the event to make it a pleasant and enjoyable moment.

Do I feel Dutch?

That same evening I heard with relief on the news that Minister Verdonk's proposal to compel naturalised Dutch citizens taking care of under-age children to follow an integration course had been rejected by the Council of State (Raad van Staat in Dutch) on the grounds that it was discriminatory. My last cause for worry had finally been removed!

Naturally, the question now is: do I feel Dutch? Well, to be honest, I do not feel any more Dutch now than I have ever felt completely French or Brazilian or Japanese. It is not my ambition to be any of those things. But over the years, there are many aspects of the Dutch way of life that I have grown to appreciate. I especially enjoy living in a small village in Limburg and being part of a community where almost everyone knows each other and where it feels safe to raise one’s children.

The frustration and bitterness I was experiencing last year have slowly been replaced by relief and even gratitude. After all, as harsh as the official immigration policy may have become, even towards ordinary EU citizens like me, most of the people I encountered during my naturalisation process showed a fair amount of understanding and willingness to help things reach a positive conclusion.

On the occasion of Naturalisation Day, Rita Verdonk posted a short speech online (webcast dated 22 August 2006). In it, she pointed out that many people still mispronounce the word “naturalised”. But ironically enough the erroneous word somehow adequately describes how I feel today: not quite "naturalised", but rather a bit …. "neutralised".

28 August 2006

Sueli Brodin is the editor of Crossroads, the newsletter for and about the international  and academic institutes in the Maastricht area. The article first appeared here.


Article used with the kind permission of Sueli Brodin and Crossroads.

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