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Historical Trends in Immigration and Emigration | 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

Historical Trends in Immigration and Emigration

Evelyn Ersanilli

/ 5 Minuten zu lesen

For centuries, the relative freedom and wealth of the Netherlands have attracted significant flows of immigrants. Many Huguenots – Protestants from France - and Jews from Southern and Eastern Europe came to the Low Countries.

Dutch Immigrants arriving in Québec in 1910: From the late 19th century to the 1950s an increased number of people were leaving the Netherlands. Canada and Australia were the most popular destinations, followed by the U.S., South Africa and New Zealand. (© picture alliance / empics)

Between 1590 and 1800 the estimated foreign-born population in the Netherlands was never less than five percent. In the 19th century the foreign-born population declined, reaching about two percent in 1880. From 1870, there were more people leaving than entering the country. After the Second World War, the government encouraged emigration because it feared that the high birth-rate would create unemployment. During the 1950s, roughly 350,000 people emigrated. Canada and Australia were the most popular destinations, followed by the U.S., South Africa and New Zealand. In 1960 immigration again came to exceed emigration. Post-war immigration was dominated by people from the (former) colonies and from guest worker recruitment countries. When the Dutch colony of Indonesia claimed independence in 1945, two groups of migrants came to the Netherlands: about 300,000 Dutch-Indonesian repatriates and 12,500 Malukans. In 1975, Suriname, a small Dutch colony just north of Brazil, gained independence. By the time the Netherlands introduced a visa requirement for Surinamese in 1980, nearly half the population had migrated to the Netherlands.

The Netherlands Antilles, a group of small Caribbean islands that have remained part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, are another important source of migrants. Like upper-class Surinamese, upper-class Antilleans have long come to the Netherlands to study. When the economic situation on the islands became precarious in the 1990s, more and more lower class Antilleans moved to the "mother country." These migrants often struggle to find their way in the Netherlands, which has led to an increase in return migration.

Post-War Migration

Like other Western European countries, the Netherlands recruited guest workers in the 1960s and 1970s; the Netherlands signed agreements with Interner Link: Italy (1960), Interner Link: Spain (1961), Portugal (1963), Turkey (1964), Interner Link: Greece (1967), Interner Link: Morocco (1969), Yugoslavia (1970) and Tunisia (1971). Turkey, Morocco and Spain were the most important sending countries. Guest workers from Southern Europe mostly returned to their home countries – especially after Spain and Portugal joined the EU. Return migration to Turkey and Morocco was less common because the economic and political situation in these countries remained poor and re-entering the Netherlands or other European countries became more difficult for non EU-citizens. After the recruitment stop in 1975, many guest workers decided to prolong their stay in the Netherlands and were joined by their families. Family reunification peaked around 1980. Initially this process met resistance from the government and society because of the housing shortage the Netherlands was facing. Nevertheless, in the early 1980s family reunification regulations were relaxed. As a consequence of family reunification, family formation , and childbirth, the Moroccan and Turkish origin populations have shown a strong increase in size. From 1975 to 2014 the Turkish origin population grew from about 55,639 to 396,414 and the Moroccan origin population from 30,481 to 374,996.

Recent Developments in Immigration and Emigration

Figure 1: Immigration and emigration (bpb) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/

From 1960 until 2003 , the number of immigrants exceeded the number of emigrants. Between 2003 and 2007 a simultaneous increase in emigration and decrease in immigration led to a negative migration balance (see Figure 1). From 2003 onward, well over 100,000 people a year left the Netherlands. About a third of these emigrants were Dutch-born. Native Dutch mostly emigrate to neighboring Germany and Belgium or other European countries.

The drop in immigration from 2003 was mostly due to a drop in asylum and family migration. The increase in immigration from 2007 was mainly driven by an increase in labor migration. Since 2010 immigration has topped 150,000 people a year.

Until 2007 family migration was the main source of migration to the Netherlands, accounting for almost 40 percent of all immigrants. Since 2007, labor migrants make up the largest group. The shift in migration types and increase in overall immigration were mainly driven by migration from Central and Eastern European countries that joined the European Union (EU) in 2004 and 2007. "Old" EU Member States are allowed to put a maximum of seven years restriction on the freedom of movement from new Member States. The Netherlands fully opened its borders to citizens of the 2004-accession countries in May 2007. Because migrants from the new Member States do not need a residence permit and often do not register with the municipal authorities (in part because many are seasonal workers, employed in agriculture or construction) it is difficult to know exactly how many of them are in the Netherlands. Estimates by Statistics Netherlands (CBS) suggest that the number of migrants from the new Member States increased from just below 100,000 in 2007 to about 250,000 in 2012. In this same period the number of migrants from the old Member States increased only from 335,000 to 350,000. Polish migrants are the most prominent group; they make up about 70 percent of all migrants from the new Member States. The large flow of migrants from the 2004-accession countries, led the government to place the maximum restriction period on the freedom of movement from Bulgaria and Romania. Even though the restrictions on free movement from these two countries were only lifted in 2014, Statistics Netherlands estimates that by the end of 2012 already more than 30,000 people from these two countries were living in the Netherlands.

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



  1. Lucassen/Penninx (1997).

  2. Jennissen (2011).

  3. Malukans live on the Maluku Islands in western Indonesia. Malukan soldiers fought with the Dutch army against Indonesian independence. The Dutch government had promised them an independent Malukan state on the island Ambon. Because Indonesia was not willing to create such a state, 12,500 Malukans came to the Netherlands to wait for its creation. To this day there is no free Malukan republic, and the Malukans have stayed in the Netherlands.

  4. Family reunification is when children and spouses who were left behind at the time of migration come to join the principal migrant. Family formation is when a migrant comes to the Netherlands to live with their partner for the first time. The latter are often referred to as "marriage migrants".

  5. This number concerns the first and second generation.

  6. Except for 1967 when the oil embargo put a halt to guest worker recruitment.

  7. Jennissen (2011).

  8. Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Finland.

  9. Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary.

  10. These countries joined the EU in 2007.


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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: