Dutch government says immigrants must pay for 'integration'

Dutch government says immigrants must pay for 'integration'

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Moroccan-born Rahmouna Lakdhari was still living as an outsider after 13 years in her adoptive Netherlands, prevented by language and cultural barriers from working and making new friends.

But last year, the life of the 33-year-old who followed her husband to the land of windmills, bicycles and tulips changed dramatically thanks to a state-sponsored integration course--a privilege the new, rightist government plans to take away.

"Only now am I learning what one needs to know about the Netherlands," Lakdhari told AFP in halting Dutch at the school where she spends 10 hours a week on lessons in language and socialisation--how government works, how to befriend neighbours, open a bank account and register a birth.

The Netherlands was long seen as a land of multi-cultural tolerance. But the Dutch, like their neighbours in Germany, have shifted towards promoting greater social integration as European Union states rethink their response to continued waves of immigrants.

The country introduced integration courses in 2007, obliging all non-European adult immigrants--workers and their family members--to attend classes and pass an exam. Those who fail to do so do not qualify for permanent residence and cannot claim social benefits.

Photo © zoetnet
Multicultural: people in the stadshart, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands

As Lakdhari arrived before 2007, her course was not compulsory but she took it voluntarily at the government's expense. About 40,000 people successfully completed the course last year, according to the Dutch Centre for Foreigners (NCB).

"I can now go to the doctor and explain what is wrong with me. I no longer need my husband, my child or a neighbour to help me," Lakdhari said proudly as her classmates--mostly women in headscarves from Turkey and Morocco--nodded in agreement as they copied grammar from a black board.

"I can look for work, I can talk to people, I can help my children with homework."

The new minority coalition, which took over in October backed by a controversial anti-Islam party, is bent on halting rising public debt and aiding long-term recovery after the global economic crisis.

One target is slashing the integration budget of about EUR half-a-billion in incremental amounts, to culminate in an annual savings of more than EUR 300 million as of 2014.

The plan must still be put to parliament, where a coalition of the Christian Democratic Action (CDA) and conservative liberal VVD, backed by the Party for Freedom of anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders, hold a joint majority.

"Immigrants and asylum seekers are responsible for their own integration in our country," states a policy document of the CDA-VVD coalition.

It wants newcomers to foot the bill for the compulsory course, which training centres told AFP costs up to EUR 5,000 (USD 7,000) for up to 18 months of lessons.

'We teach people how to live together'

Under the plan, those who fail the exam will lose their temporary residence permit--meaning they must leave the country.

Today, about 3.4 million of the Netherlands' 16.6 million inhabitants are of immigrant origin--.8 million from "non-Western" countries.

"We cannot continue to allow so many people without prospects to come to the Netherlands," Prime Minister Mark Rutte said after last month's inauguration.

NCB director Ilhan Akel, for one, opposes making immigrants pay for the course, calling it "short-sighted" and indicative of a "broad shift to the right".
"It is imperative that as many people as possible complete these courses," he said.

"With our ageing workforce, we need more young people to work in the care and production sectors. But if they have no language skills and sit on the margins of society, they will cost us money instead of contributing to the economy."

Photo © zoetnet

 The Netherlands: women walking on a saturday afternoon

Ahmet Azdural, director of the non-governmental organisation Turkish Participation in the Netherlands (IOT), argued that most immigrants "don't have this kind of money".

"Most people who move to a new country do so exactly because things are not great where they come from," he said.

People like Azdural fear the harsher measures will break up families--forcing people moving to the Netherlands for work to live apart from loved ones who cannot afford the integration.

Others fear the changes will drive a deeper wedge between people in a country where Wilders' anti-immigrant rhetoric has found increasingly fertile soil.

"We teach people how to speak to each other and live together," said integration teacher Corine Kobes. "Without it, I fear that attitudes on both sides will harden; there will be less understanding for each other."

For Geert de Vries, a sociologist at the Free University of Amsterdam, "the message is clear: the government only wants highly skilled immigrants with money in their wallets."

"Immigrants will be made to feel more and more unwelcome," he said. "This can only add to the tension."

Lakdhari said she was grateful to have taken the course.

"I am sorry for those people who will not have the same opportunity. It's a pity."

AFP/ Mariette le Roux/ Expatica

Photo credits: zoetnet

3 Comments To This Article

  • lightdancer posted:

    on 17th November 2010, 15:15:46 - Reply

    To LJK: I didn't think it could get worse than my situation. Now, I see I have really nothing to complain about.

    My comment:

    I wonder if the costs they quote reflect the expense involved in running the administration of the tests, the schools and the overseeing of immigrant work status with little left over to spend on the actual educational process. Students in the state sponsored courses, see no evidence of such expenditures. The quality of the environment and the learning tools provided in the classes is extremely poor.

    The distance between what is expected of the student and what is offered by the school/government is so great, it makes Holland look bad.
    This is at cross-purpose for both Holland and the immigrant. The need is great for change in the program but not just in terms of increasing the load for the immigrant students. There is a management issue as well.
  • LJK posted:

    on 17th November 2010, 13:15:45 - Reply

    I came here to NL in 2001. I took the integration and language classes from 2002-2003. I did not have to pay for them. I'm an American and I WAS required by law to take the courses. I passed everything just fine by the end of March, 2003. I received my diploma in the mail shortly after. Explain to me why then that 7 years later.. in the summer of 2010 I was called in to have my dutch questioned? I held the interview in my best Dutch and was told I spoke it well. I was then told I had to go to Einhoven at my own expense to PAY for myself another test to allow me to stay. I passed this all 7 yrs ago. How can they do this to me? Obviously I will pass the lady said but I still had to jump through another hoop.

    This is all nonsense. This article isn't even accurate as I was FORCED into those courses in the summer of 2002 (so it was def. before 2007!!).

    I'm now debating about applying for a Dutch passport. I'm told an American can have both now and I'm tired of being treated like a criminal and having to pay every 5 yrs for a new residence permit, on and on.

    My husband and children are dutch. I speak Dutch, and have integrated in the 9 yrs I've lived here. LEAVE US ALONE.
  • PJ posted:

    on 16th November 2010, 18:50:05 - Reply

    I have being here since 2007 and as a native English speaker, well it is hard to be part of this culture . When I really try to speak Dutch and to learn the language I always get answers in English. Now I am in the Inburgeringscursus and find that the government is thowing good money at a poorly run program. It is not structured and is more of a self taught system with making it manditory for attendence. Changes need to be made in the program, making it more cost effective. More government oversight would be better with a better structure to the program! Make sure everyone gets what is needed from the program. The tax payer, the students, and then we all win!!!!