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Address by Ella Kalsbeek, Secretary of State for Justice, The Netherlands

Article by Ella Kalsbeek

September 15, 2006


Mr. Chair, dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to speak to you today about immigration and integration of newcomers in the Netherlands. I thank the Foreign Policy Centre for their kind invitation.

In the Dutch Cabinet, I am responsible for immigration policy at the Justice Department. As many departments are involved in integration policy, in the Cabinet there is a co-ordinating minister for urban and integration policy.

For that reason, and because of the nature of this conference, I will focus on Dutch immigration policy and the way our integration policy relates to it. Admitting newcomers to your country is one thing, integrating them is quite another.

Immigration in the Netherlands consists of roughly three streams, as everywhere in Europe. The most eye-catching stream is, as in Britain, asylum migration. The second stream is labour migration. The third stream is family migration, which follows the other two streams. But, in numbers, family migration is the biggest flow. There is of course a fourth flow, illegal immigration, but as only legally residing migrants are entitled to integration measures, I will not talk about illegal immigration.

To give you an impression of the number of immigrants in the Netherlands:
In 1998, there were about eighty two thousand (82,000) immigrants.
Of these, some seventeen thousand (17,000) were asylum migrants who had been admitted at least temporarily.
A little more than fifteen thousand (15,000) were labour migrants, mostly from EU countries and the United States.
Some thirty seven thousand (37,000) were family migrants, who came to join persons already residing in the Netherlands.
Others came for study or other reasons.

In all, the Netherlands now have about sixteen million inhabitants. Fifty years ago, there were hardly any non-western immigrants in the Netherlands. Now, about nine percent of the Dutch population are persons of non-western descent. People from refugee countries are about one percent of the total population of the Netherlands.

Most immigrants in the Netherlands are admitted because of international obligations or out of humanitarian concern. This means that labour migration – at least from outside the European Economic Area – is quite limited. As the Netherlands are not yet confronted with a rapidly ageing population, we do not consider large-scale labour migration a necessity. In this respect the Netherlands are different from several other European countries.

Labour migration in the Netherlands is being used as a tool to respond to acute labour shortages in several sectors, especially at the higher end of the labour market. The Dutch government wants to ease labour migration in sectors that are highly globalised and that are of particular importance to what we call the ‘knowledge economy’. To that end, admission procedures for people working as IT specialists or in research and development have recently been centralised and accelerated. However, far-reaching policy changes are not to be expected right now.

As I already said, most immigrants in the Netherlands are refugees or family migrants. They are admitted for very different reasons than labour market needs. This can pose problems where integration and employability are concerned. It is of integration and employment that I want to speak now. I will also pay attention to the integration of refugees.

The Netherlands have had an integration policy since about the early 1980s. It was at that time that a minorities policy, as it was then called, first came into effect. It was focused on four migrant groups that had already settled some time before. The first two groups came from Turkey and Morocco. They had come to the Netherlands as labour migrants in the sixties and early seventies. The second two groups were people from the former Dutch colony of Surinam and from the Netherlands Antilles. Although most Surinamese and all Antilleans were already Dutch citizens, and spoke Dutch, they became target groups of the Dutch integration policy because they experienced worrying labour market problems.

People from Turkey, Morocco, Surinam and the Antilles are still the largest immigrant groups in the Netherlands, but since the early eighties the character of immigration has changed dramatically. The growth in the number of asylum seekers that were admitted resulted in many more nationalities that are living in the Netherlands. In 1970, there were not yet thirty nationalities living in the Netherlands. Now, there are more than one hundred and ten (110).

What all this means is that an integration policy focused on four target groups is no longer appropriate. It was also recognised that many ethnic groups still had a disadvantaged position on the labour market. Unemployment among these groups was very high. Integration into Dutch society still left much to be desired, partly due to a lack of knowledge of the Dutch language. The government has addressed this problem in the past few years, as it became more and more clear that changes were necessary.

In September 1998, the Integration of Newcomers Act came into force in the Netherlands. The aim of this act is to promote the independence of newcomers by means of an integration programme. This programme consists of Dutch language training, social orientation and vocational orientation. In addition, newcomers receive social counselling and general programme coaching for support and motivation. The Integration of Newcomers Act also provides for a referral to the employment exchange or follow-up courses.

Newcomers should be able to participate independently in Dutch society as soon as possible. Therefore, they are approached soon after their arrival in the Netherlands. Early attention focused on newcomers may prevent the formation of new disadvantaged groups. For that reason, the Integration of Newcomers Act contains a number of obligations and rules which together should lead to a situation where:
·All newcomers participate;
·Newcomers are offered an effective made-to-measure integration programme;
·Newcomers make optimal use of this programme.
·Municipalities are given enough space to provide a made-to-measure programme;
·There is early referral to further training or the labour market.

Legal obligations apply not only to newcomers, but also to municipalities which have primary responsibility for implementing the Act. The government plays a stimulating and supporting role.

Application for the integration programme is mandatory. After an individual assessment, the municipality decides which parts of the integration programme a newcomer has to follow. Now, the newcomer signs a training contract with an educational institution. The integration programme lasts twelve months and concludes with a test. At the end of the integration programme, the newcomer receives a certificate from the municipality that specifies the programme that has been followed and the results which have been achieved. The municipality helps the newcomer to go on to follow-up training or the labour market.

The Integration of Newcomers Act came into force in late 1998. At this moment, an evaluation of the act is going on. The results of it are not yet known. It is clear, however, that there are a few problems of which I will shortly speak.

First, however, it must be clear that integration policy is more than the Integration of Newcomers Act. Being able to find your way does not necessarily mean that you will find a suitable job or become socially integrated. There are several ways in which we measure the level of integration.

In the first place there is socio-structural integration, measured in for example dependence on social benefits, educational level, the unemployment rate, housing and health.
Socio-cultural integration is more difficult to measure, because it is about norms, values and life-style.
In the third place, there is politico-institutional integration: participation in politics, administration and civil society.

As far as the integration of children is concerned, good Dutch-language education is essential. When children do not speak Dutch at home, they should learn it from the earliest age on. In this respect, the discussion going on in the Netherlands about lowering the school age from five years to four is of special importance.

One aspect of integration is of particular interest for this conference, and that is participation on the labour market.

About a decade ago, unemployment among ethnic minorities in the Netherlands was still quite dramatic. Since the early nineties, it has lowered considerably. In 1998, when the present government was established, it was about sixteen percent (16%). Among the autochthonous population, however, it was only four percent (4%). The government wanted to half this difference by the year 2000, that is bring the unemployment rate among ethnic minorities back to 10%. In this respect we have been quite successful, as the target was indeed reached. However, labour market participation among ethnic minorities is still not proportional. In order to reduce it even further, several measures were taken.

In April 2000, the cabinet signed a covenant with the Netherlands organisation of medium and small-sized businesses and the employment exchanges. The target was to place twenty thousand (20,000) persons from ethnic minorities in jobs in medium and small-sized businesses, within one year. This was to be done by linking the large number of vacancies in these businesses to job-seekers from ethnic minorities. A special project organisation was established. They were so successful that more than thirty thousand (30,000) persons were placed in jobs. For that reason, the covenant has been continued. In 2002, the organisation of medium and small-sized businesses will give notice of thirty thousand vacancies again.

Apart from measures such as the one I mentioned, companies can make themselves intercultural, so that immigrants will find jobs more easily and feel at home in a company. Companies have to report yearly on their intercultural personnel management. This has been a successful measure as well. With about ninety large companies, covenants have been signed on intercultural personnel management. Examples are selection tests, trainee programmes for highly educated migrants, and so on.

One group which demands our specific attention is the group of refugees. Unemployment among refugees and asylees (who have a residence permit) is much higher than among migrant groups which have been longer established. From a review of five new ethnic groups in the Netherlands in the year 2000 it appeared that about thirty four percent (34%) were unemployed and seeking jobs. Many refugees who have a job, are working below their level of education or experience. Labour participation depends to a large extent on the length of stay in the Netherlands, knowledge of the Dutch language, assessment of diplomas, and so on. About sixty percent (60%) of refugees had a secondary or higher education and are quite willing to participate on the labour market.

At this moment, the government is paying particular attention to the problem of highly educated refugees. We are thinking about a task force or a covenant. Investing in assessing diplomas – which is sometimes quite a difficult problem – is also a priority. How, for example, do we assess the skills of a surgeon from Iraq? Information on education and employment has to be collected as soon as the asylum application is filed. This is useful when an integration programme has to start. But it can also be useful when asylum seekers who are not admitted have to return to their country of origin. They can follow several courses as long as their application is being assessed.

In April of last year, a new Immigration Act came into force in the Netherlands. One of our primary objectives is to give asylum seekers a decision on their application within six months. When they are admitted, integration can then start earlier without refugees having to wait too long in our reception facilities.

As you can see, we have taken many measures which facilitate the integration of immigrants and refugees in Dutch society and the Dutch labour market. Our policy measures have certainly had results. I think one important aspect is that measures are tailored to individual needs and experiences of immigrants, which in my opinion leads to the best results.

Thank you for your attention.

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