27 February 2024, by Abi Carter

The European Court of Justice is currently examining whether the Netherlands’ policy of mandatory integration – under which certain migrants are obliged to complete certain integration measures, and can be fined if they do not – complies with EU rules. 

Legality of Dutch civic integration programme questioned

In the Netherlands, certain foreign nationals are obliged to complete integration measures either before coming to the country or immediately after receiving their first residence permit, under the so-called civic integration programme (inburgeringsplicht). This primarily applies to non-EU citizens.

People subject to integration obligations in the Netherlands must prove that they have integrated within three years by passing an exam that proves their Dutch language skills and knowledge of Dutch society. Generally, the onus is put on the migrants themselves to find a Dutch language course and pay for it. If they fail to pass the exam within three years, the Dutch government can fine them. 

EU Court of Justice might order Dutch government to cancel fines

However, under EU law, that responsibility to integrate lies more with the member states, rather than with migrants themselves, leading to a question mark being placed over the Netherlands’ integration process. The Court of Justice is now considering whether the system – and in particular the fines given out to those who do not integrate within three years – fits these rules. 

According to NL Times, in recent years the government has fined 3.400 refugees who took longer than three years to integrate, with the maximum fine totalling 1.250 euros. However, the bigger financial issue is that many migrants take out loans to finance their language studies, with the government agency DUO estimating that refugees currently have around 27 million euros in loans outstanding, on top of 2,3 million euros in fines. 

The European Court of Justice will announce its ruling in a couple of months, and may well order the Netherlands to waive those debts. For now, DUO has announced that it will not issue or collect repayments on fines and loans. 

Thumb image credit: Lea Rae / Shutterstock.com

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