In the Netherlands we have long had a specific immigration policy for newly arrived immigrants, based on the 1998 law on civic integration of new arrived immigrants (WIN, law on civic integration of new arrived immigrants from 1998). This law placed obligations on immigrants to follow language courses, pass tests and acquire knowledge of Dutch society. The policy distinguishes between immigrants newly arrived in the Netherlands, called ‘newcomers’, who have an obligation to follow language and integration courses, and ‘old comers’ second language learners who arrived a long time ago and now want to improve their language skills.
The policy for adult immigrants has changed over the years, depending on the policy of the political parties in government, and so has the law on civic integration. Since immigration became a major topic in public debate we have seen increasingly restrictive policy in terms of funding, and a change from an obligation to participate in courses to an obligation to pass exams. Underpinning these. Policy changes seems to be an assumption that the immigrant is not willing to learn the language or to participate in society, and therefore must be forced to do so.
We see this change of concept reflected in two changes in government policy. The first great change came in 2007 under a right-wing government (the Prime Minister: Jan Peter Balkende – Christian Democratic Appeal in coalition with the Labour Party PvdA and the Christian Union – notes by the editor) . From that moment on immigrants have had not only the obligation to follow courses, but also to pass a civic integration exam, consisting of a test of language and knowledge of Dutch society, in order to obtain a residence permit. The immigrant has 3,5 years to follow the program and pass the exam.
The municipalities were responsible for the implementation of this new policy. An example of the restrictive character of this new policy was the introduction of a whole range of sanctions that local municipalities could impose on immigrants who did not meet their obligations. The new policy was enshrined in law in 2007 what is known as the new WI (Wet Inburgering, law on civic integration).
Adult immigrants have an obligation to pass the civic integration exam at level A2 or a State Exam at the levels B1 or C1. The State exam provides access to VET courses (B1) and universities and universities of applied sciences (HBO, higher education). Since 2015 immigrants also have to follow a program and pass an examination to obtain labor market skills (ONA).
In 2013 a new shift in policy occurred. Since that time immigrants have to pay for language courses themselves. This is based on the general policy of the government that we live in a “participation society” in which citizens are more self-responsible. According to this vision, the immigrant is mainly responsible their own integration in Dutch society and therefore also for financing it, although loans under favorable conditions are available.
It is not just the ideal of the participation society that has led to this policy shift. The Minister of Social Affairs and Employment, responsible for integration policy, also hoped the act of 2013 would lead to a structural saving of €333 million every year.
A consequence of the new law was that the role of municipalities was restricted. Before 2007 they contracted providers and were responsible for the implementation of the law and guidance of immigrants during their integration course. Since 2013 they have only been responsible for courses for refugees (those granted asylum), at certified providers by providing a loan which doesn’t need to be repaid if the recipient passes the exam.
Another example of the way that the change in public debate about immigration and refugees is defining policy on language learning for immigrants came in 2017 with the introduction of the obligation on immigrants to sign a Participation statement. By signing this Participation statement immigrants declare that they will actively participate in Dutch society and respect what is important in the Netherlands.
So, did all these rapid law changes and short implementation periods bring us an effective and efficient integration policy for the immigrants? In 2017 the Algemene Rekenkamer (the Court of Audit, the national court that evaluates government policy) came to negative conclusions concerning the outcomes of the implementation of the law since 2013:
- The personal responsibility underlying the integration policy does not work adequately in practice. Most of the people integrating need support at the start of the integration path.
- Lack of transparency about the courses available on the market prevents participants from selecting the most appropriate integration path.
- The quality of the integration courses is not assessed.
- Under the Civic Integration Act 2013, fewer people pass the integration exam within the statutory term than under the Civic Integration Act 2007.
- It is not clear whether or not sanctions are effective. It is almost impossible in practice to enforce the legal sanction of withdrawing the right to residency.
- The Civic Integration Act 2013 provides few incentives for dual integration paths and does not provide sufficient encouragement for participants to take exams at the highest feasible level. This may reduce the likelihood of participation in society.
Result: the Ministry is now designing a new integration system, that will be implemented in 2021. The highlights:
- The minimum level of language examination will be B1, except for people with low learning skills or other obstacles in obtaining the required level.
- The responsibility for implementation will go back to the municipalities
- A personal integration plan (PIP) will be the basis for more tailored made courses
- More control on quality of provision is needed.
Let us hope the focus will now be on the quality of provision, quality of teachers and volunteers and a tailormade learning path for every individual immigrant, instead of more and more bureaucratic rules, sanctions and obligations, based on the negative assumption that immigrants do not wish to integrate but have to be forced!
An article by Ina den Hollander
Ina den Hollander is an expert in adult education and basic skills in the Netherlands. For a long time she worked as a consultant for CINOP, an expert organization in the field of VET and adult education. Her special field was literacy and basic skills for adults, and language education and civic integration of (adult) immigrants and youth at risk. As consultants within CINOP she and her team were responsible for several programs of the national government concerning literacy and basic skills. One of the most important projects was the development and implementation of the national standards for basic skills education on literacy, numeracy and digital competences, for which Ina was the project manager. She also worked as a policy advisor for municipalities, implementing policy on adult education, for providers of adult education and for labour market organisations. She has a special interest in quality of teachers and volunteers in adult education. Together with partners she developed a competence framework for teachers in basic skills and managed several projects on competences of volunteers and how to combine volunteering with professional and formal education. She has also worked on the implementation of online and blended learning in basic skills provision and the role of social media, together with Oefenen.nl, providers of online learning programs for basic skills. After her retirement in 2017 she is still active in the field of basic skills as a freelancer. She managed a project on online learning for mother tongue speakers, was active in the VIME project developing roles for volunteers in language education for migrants and since 2018 she has worked on a project on Learners Voice in basic skills policy and the development of a guide for basic skills teachers. She is a member of the board of Learn for Life, a volunteer organization for the advocacy of lifelong learning and adult education and has cooperated with the EBSN since 2012, within CINOP and, since 2017, for Learn for Life.
Chapter 1 on Key Documents for Policy-makers by the EU
Chapter 2 on National Programs for Integrating Migrant Adults
Chapter 3 on The Linguistic Integration of Migrant Adults (LIAM) Project by the Council of Europe
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