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Immigrant Population

Evelyn Ersanilli

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The Netherlands have attracted migrants for centuries. The immigrant population is very heterogeneous.

Moroccan builder in The Hague: Moroccans are the second largest allochthonous group in the Netherlands. (© picture-alliance / Ton Koene)

Defining Allochtonen and Autochtonen

Statistics on the immigrant population in the Netherlands are based on ethnicity which is measured as (parental) country of birth. Information on parental country of birth is collected in the municipal registration system (gemeentelijke basisadministratie, GBA). Dutch statistics distinguish between allochtonen and autochtonen. Autochtonen are native Dutch; people with two Dutch-born parents. Allochtonen are officially defined as persons who have at least one parent who was born outside the Netherlands. A further distinction is made between Western and non-Western allochtonen. Western allochtonen are people from Europe (excluding Turkey), North America, Oceania, Indonesia and Japan. Non-Western allochtonen are people from Turkey, Africa, Latin American and the rest of Asia. Many statistics differentiate between allochtonen and autochtonen (and often further differentiate between individual ethnic groups). Most statistics, and research based on them, focus in particular on the non-Western group, as they are seen as the ones with the most disadvantaged position in Dutch society. In everyday usage the term allochtonen tends to denote the non-Western group, and more specifically Turks and Moroccans.

Composition of the Immigrant Population

Figure 2: Top-10 groups of 'allochtonen', 2014 (bpb) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/

Because naturalization rates are generally high and differ across origin groups, data on allochtonen present a different view of the immigrant origin population than data on foreigners. 21.4 percent of the Dutch population is allochtoon (11.9 percent non-Western), 10.8 percent is foreign-born and 4.75 percent of the population does not possess Dutch citizenship. The ten largest groups make up two-thirds of the total allochtoon population. The top-10 is made up of groups originating from (former) colonies, guest worker recruitment countries, and three neighboring countries, Belgium, Interner Link: Germany and the United Kingdom (see Figure 2). Taken together, people born in Interner Link: EU Member States and their children make up 27.4 percent of the allochtoon population.

The top-10 of foreign nationals does not include any former colonial groups. This is to be expected as these migrants were often Dutch nationals at the time of migration. Instead, in addition to the former guest worker recruitment countries Morocco and Turkey it includes several EU countries and the U.S. (see Figure 3). According to data from Statistics Netherlands, there are nationals from 190 different countries living in the Netherlands.

Spatial Distribution

Figure 3: Top-10 foreign nationals and dual nationals, 2012 (bpb) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/

The immigrant population tends to live in urban areas. Nearly 30 percent of allochtonen (38 percent of all non-Western allochtonen) live in the four largest cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, the Hague and Utrecht), compared to 8.9 percent of the autochtoon Dutch population. In Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the Hague, allochtonen make up around half of the population. Some smaller municipalities also have a high concentration of certain groups, mostly as a consequence of the presence of industries that employed guest workers. Within cities there are high levels of segregation: many immigrants live in neighborhoods with a low percentage of autochtonen.

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



  1. A 2007 report by the Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) on Dutch Identity (Identificatie met Nederland) recommended that the term allochtoon be abolished, because it continues to define people of immigrant descent as not belonging to the Netherlands ("niet van hier"). The Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP) has dropped the term from its publications. The term is still employed by other government bodies, politicians, and journalists, although the term "migranten" (migrants) is slowly gaining popularity.

  2. The data presented include both people who do not possess Dutch citizenship and those who possess a foreign nationality in addition to their Dutch nationality (dual nationals).

  3. Of these 190 nationalities, there are 127 nationalities with at least 100 members in the Netherlands, and 88 nationalities with at least 500 people.

  4. CBS (2012): Jaarrapport integratie 2012.


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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: