Have you traded your car for a bicycle, do you regularly consume bitterballen at borrels and is Buienradar your favourite (or least favourite) app on your phone? These are all signs that you are starting to live like a local and you are integrating into Dutch society. Unfortunately, these developments will not earn you a civic integration diploma. Danielle Snaathorst from Everaert Advocaten explains everything you need to know about the civic integration process.
The Dutch government wants every resident of the Netherlands to learn the Dutch language, immerse themselves in Dutch culture and become an active participant on the Dutch labour market. The civic integration exams have been introduced to achieve these goals.
Dutch civic integration The Dutch Ministry of Education (DUO) has been tasked with administering the civic integration exams. When you have completed all of the exams, you will receive a civic integration diploma (also known as the inburgeringsdiploma).
To help you navigate the civic integration process, this article outlines the answers to the most frequently asked questions below. For the purpose of this article, the author has distinguished between compulsory civic integration and voluntary civic integration.
Are you required to take the civic integration exams?Certain foreign nationals, such as family members of Dutch nationals who have a dependent residence permit, must obtain a civic integration diploma within three years after their residence permit was granted to them; they are “inburgeringsplichtig”. If they do not pass the civic integration exams on time, they could receive a fine; this is called compulsory civic integration.
You can check if you are inburgeringsplichtig (required to integrate) via the Dutch government’s Mijn inburgering website, which you can access with your DigiD.
Generally, if you hold a residence permit to work or study in the Netherlands, you are not inburgeringsplichtig. The same applies to your family members who have dependent residence permits. You are exempt from compulsory civic integration, if:
You are a minor (under 18 years of age). You have lived in the Netherlands for at least 8 years between the ages of 5 and 16. You have reached the state pension age. You have obtained a diploma from a (IB) high school, MBO (level 2) or HBO institution in the Netherlands, Belgium, Suriname, Aruba, Curaçao or St. Maarten, provided that the subjects were taught in Dutch You are a citizen of the EU or a family member of an EU citizen. You have a residence permit for the purpose of work and you are one of the following: Highly skilled migrant, EU Blue Card holder, intra company transferee and self-employed individuals. You have a residence permit for the purpose of study or to search for work (zoekjaar). You have a residence permit for medical treatment or temporary humanitarian grounds. You have legal residence as the family member of an EU citizen or of a person who holds one of the above listed residence permits. Not required to integrateIf you are exempt from compulsory civic integration, you are not inburgeringsplichtig. You will therefore not incur a fine if you do not pass the civic integration exams within three years after your residence permit was granted to you. However, to be eligible for permanent residence in the Netherlands or for Dutch citizenship, you may still have to obtain a civic integration diploma. This is discussed further below, so please keep reading.
You are inburgeringsplichtig: Which exams apply to you?On January 1, 2022, the Wet Inburgering 2021 (2021 Integration Act) took effect. The 2021 Act introduced three paths to civic integration:
B1-route Education route Self-reliance route Foreign nationals who became inburgeringsplichtig after the 2021 Act took effect will be invited by appointment to their local Dutch municipality to discuss which route is the best fit for them. They will also have to sign the Participation Statement and complete the module Job Market and Participation.
Different rules apply for foreign nationals who became inburgeringsplichtig before the 2021 Act was enacted. They still fall under the Wet Inburgering 2013 (2013 Integration Act), which means that they will need to complete the following components of the civic integration diploma:
Participation statement Knowledge of Dutch society Reading (at A2-level) Writing (at A2-level) Listening (at A2-level) Speaking (at A2-level) Orientation on the Dutch labour market (ONA) If you already work in the Netherlands, you may be eligible for an exemption of the ONA component. You can easily apply for this exemption via DUO’s website.
You are not inburgeringsplichtig: How do you apply for permanent residence or Dutch citizenship?After five years of continuous legal residence in the Netherlands, you may be eligible for Dutch citizenship or permanent residence. If you are not inburgeringsplichtig, you will, in principle, have to obtain a civic integration diploma to be eligible for a stronger residence right or Dutch citizenship. This is called voluntary civic integration.
The following components are then applicable to you:
Knowledge of Dutch society Reading (at A2-level) Writing (at A2-level) Listening (at A2-level) Speaking (at A2-level) Orientation on the Dutch labour market (ONA) As mentioned above, it is possible to apply for an exemption of the component Orientation on the Dutch labour market, if you already work in the Netherlands.
Exemptions for permanent residenceFor foreign nationals who are not inburgeringsplichtig, there may still be an exemption from the civic integration diploma for permanent residence.
For example, you do not need a civic integration diploma, if:
You are a minor (under 18 years of age). You have lived in the Netherlands for at least 8 years between the ages of 5 and 16. You have reached the state pension age. You have obtained a diploma from a (IB) high school, MBO (level 2) or HBO institution in the Netherlands, Belgium, Suriname, Aruba, Curaçao or St. Maarten, provided that the subjects were taught in Dutch. You are a Turkish, Belgian or Luxembourg national. You are permanently unable to take the civic integration exams on medical grounds. Exemptions for naturalisationFor Dutch citizenship via the naturalisation procedure, similar but different exemptions apply. For example, if you have reached the state pension age or if you are a Turkish national, you are exempt from the civic integration requirement for permanent residence but not for Dutch citizenship.
What changes to the civic integration process are expected?The civic integration process is often subject to big and small changes. With the 2021 Act, the B1 language level was introduced. It is possible that the language level for voluntary civic integration will also be raised. The IND has announced that the level for a stronger residence right or Dutch citizenship will remain A2 in 2023.
At the time of writing this article, there have been no further announcements regarding the language level in 2024. If you have obtained the civic integration diploma in 2023, it is expected that you will still be able to use it to apply for permanent residence and Dutch citizenship at a later date.
Turkish nationalsThere have also recently been some changes to the position of Turkish nationals in the civic integration process. For example, Turkish nationals are no longer by default exempt from compulsory civic integration. While Turkish nationals are still exempt from the civic integration requirement for permanent residence, the Dutch government has announced that this exemption will no longer be applicable after January 1, 2025.
Changes to the integration process The rules relating to civic integration are continuously changing and we can unfortunately not predict the future. In November 2023, a new Dutch government will be elected and the results may of course also affect any (predicted or planned) changes.
Feeling overwhelmed? If you need help understanding the maze of civic integration, or you would like assistance with the application for permanent residence or Dutch citizenship, don’t hesitate to contact Danielle Snaathorst, attorney-at-law at Everaert Advocaten, at [email protected] or +31 207 523 200.