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Introduction | Netherlands |

Netherlands Introduction Historical Trends Immigration Policy Immigrant Population Integration Policy Citizenship Immigrant Integration Irregular Migration Refuge and Asylum Current Developments References and Further Reading


Evelyn Ersanilli

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Migrants have been attracted by the relatively high levels of prosperity and religious tolerance in the Netherlands for centuries. Currently, immigrants make up 10.8 percent of the population, and the children of immigrants make up a further 10 percent.

Street artist in Amsterdam: For centuries migrants have been attracted by the Netherlands. Currently immigrants make up 10.8 per cent of the population, and the children of immigrants make up a further 10 per cent. (© picture-alliance / Ton Koene)

The Dutch long took pride in their country's tolerance towards other cultures and religions. Post-war immigrants, especially those who came as guest workers and their families, were initially encouraged to maintain their own cultures even after it became clear they would stay in the Netherlands. Access to citizenship was easy, and pressures to assimilate were low. During the 1990s it became clear that the former guest workers and, to a lesser extent, immigrants from the former colonies were performing poorly in the labor market. Moreover, the struggles of immigrant children in schools caused concern that their low economic status would continue in the next generation. Lacking Dutch proficiency and knowledge of Dutch society were seen as important contributors to marginalization. Landmark legislation in 1998 introduced an obligation for recent migrants to take a "civic integration course" (Inburgeringscursus) covering Dutch language, culture and society.

With the turn of the century came a very turbulent time for Dutch multiculturalism. A heated public debate emerged over (perceived) low levels of integration among long-time immigrants and their children. The debate covered areas such as high unemployment and social welfare use, poor performance in school, residential segregation and high crime rates. Cultural difference and low Dutch proficiency were presented as both a problem in their own right and a source of socio-economic disadvantage.

The electoral success of far-right populist parties since 2002 contributed to the implementation of several restrictive laws. The main goal was to restrict family migration and pressure immigrants to learn Dutch. Although there is little evidence of the results of compulsory civic integration courses, several other European countries have implemented their own versions of this policy. Even after the implementation of more restrictive legislation, policies in the Netherlands are still comparatively open. Especially political rights and accommodation of minority religions remain extensive. The Netherlands took the middle road in opening the job market to EU-migrants from Central and Eastern Europe (Interner Link: see below). As part of a move towards a "modern migration policy" the government is developing several programs to attract highly skilled workers.

Background InformationNetherlands*

Capital: Amsterdam
Seat of government: The Hague
Official languages: Dutch, Frisian (regional)
Area: 41,540 km2
Population (2014): 16,829,289
Population density (2013): 498 inhabitants per km2
Population growth (2013): +0.30%
Foreign nationals as percentage of population (2013): 4.75%
Allochtonen** as percentage of population (2014): 21.36% (non-Western***: 11.87%)
Labor force participation rate**** (2013): 72.1%
Unemployment rate: 8.3% (2013), 6.4% (2012), 5.4% (2011)
Religions (2006): 27% Roman Catholic, 17% Protestant, 6% Islam, 1% Hindu, 48% not religious

* Data from the Statistical Institute of the Netherlands (CBS); data on religions: Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR)
** An allochtoon is a person who has at least one foreign-born parent. The term covers both foreigners and Dutch citizens. See paragraph on "Immigrant Population" for details.
*** Dutch statistics differentiate between Western and non-Western immigrants. Western immigrants come from Europe (excluding Turkey), North America, Oceania, Indonesia and Japan. Non-Western immigrants come from Turkey, Africa, Latin America and the rest of Asia.
**** Share of employed and unemployed labor force (age 15-65) as a share of the total labor force.

This text is part of the Interner Link: country profile Netherlands.

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Dr. Evelyn Ersanilli is a Departmental Lecturer in Migration Studies at the International Migration Institute (IMI) at the University of Oxford. E-mail: E-Mail Link: