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Citizenship | 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

/ 3 Minuten zu lesen

The Netherlands have attracted migrants for centuries. Initially, they were encouraged to maintain their own cultures. Since the 1990s, however, there has been increasing pressure to assimilate into Dutch culture. Successful integration has become a prerequisite to acquire certain rights. This also holds true for citizenship acquisition. Since 2003, applicants for naturalization have to pass a written exam which tests their language proficiency and knowledge of Dutch culture and society.

Immigrants with treaties on naturalization of the city of Utrecht (1995): Since 2003, applicants for naturalization have to pass a written exam which tests their language proficiency and knowledge of Dutch culture and society. (© dpa)

The Netherlands has a comparatively open citizenship policy. Since 1953, third generation migrants (i.e. the grandchildren of immigrants) receive Dutch citizenship at birth. In 1985, the Netherlands introduced a new citizenship law that replaced the law of 1892. The law introduced an option-right to Dutch nationality for Dutch born children of immigrants (the second generation) between the ages of 18 and 25. In amendments that came into effect in 2003 the age-limit was removed, but the option right was made conditional on the outcome of a public order investigation.

Immigrants can naturalize after five years of legal residence, or three if they are married to a Dutch citizen. Until 2003 the naturalization requirements were minimal: applicants had to show that they had no serious criminal record and complete a modest oral exam to test their Dutch language ability. This exam usually involved a civil servant asking the candidate to state their name, place of birth, address and year of immigration in Dutch. The low threshold to naturalization was a deliberate choice. The government believed that it was important for the immigrant population to have equal rights, and awarding citizenship was seen as a good way of ensuring this. Naturalization was perceived as an important step towards integration. In the 1980s and 1990s the government organized campaigns to encourage immigrants to naturalize.

Legally resident foreigners have several rights that other countries usually reserve for citizens. Since 1985 foreigners have been allowed to work in the civil service, with the exception of the police force and the army. After five years of legal residence, foreigners have the right to vote and stand for election in local elections.

Dual Citizenship

Figure 4: Natruralization rate and number of dual nationals (bpb) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/

Dual citizenship was introduced in January 1992, which led to an increase in naturalizations. Dual citizenship was highly contested, and in October 1997 it was withdrawn. As a consequence there was a drop in the naturalization rate, from a peak of 10.9 percent in 1996 to 8.2 percent in 1998 (see Figure 4). There are several exemptions to the renunciation obligation, and the law is not applied very rigidly. Dual nationality is still often granted. The number of dual nationals has continued to rise from 600,000 in 1998 to 1.3 million in 2014 (see Figure 4). The continuing rise of dual citizenship is not only due to ongoing exemptions, but also a product of previous policies. Parents who previously became dual citizens can pass on both citizenships.

Tightening Access to Citizenship

In line with the stricter approach toward immigrant integration in general, citizenship requirements have been tightened. Granting citizenship is no longer seen as a means of facilitating integration, but more as a reward that should only be given to people who have proven that they have successfully integrated. To test the level of integration, a formal naturalization test was introduced in 2003. This written exam tests both the applicant's language proficiency and his/her knowledge of Dutch culture and society. The introduction of the test led to a decrease in naturalizations. In 2005 the naturalization rate was 3.1 percent, which is still high compared to other European countries. It has remained stable ever since. Since 2007, people who passed the civic integration exam no longer have to do a naturalization test. In 2008 "naturalization ceremonies" were introduced. These ceremonies are held on national naturalization day (December 15th) and on other days selected by municipalities. Applicants for Dutch citizenship have to attend these ceremonies and declare their allegiance to the Netherlands (verklaring van verbondenheid).

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



  1. In 1984, the responsible junior minister declared that "identification with the Dutch people and history is not necessary" nor "letting go of the own culture and no longer feeling especially involved with the weal and woe of his country of origin" (quoted in Heijs (1995), p. 193).

  2. The naturalization rate is the number of naturalizations divided by the number of foreign nationals, i.e. the naturalization potential. People who acquire Dutch citizenship via option (i.e. second generation or marriage) are excluded.

  3. See Michalowski (2011) for an interesting analysis of the content of the test.


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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: