Toby Sterling, AP, May 15, 2008
A Dutch policy of forcing some would-be immigrants to pass a language and culture test before seeking a visa is discriminatory, Human Rights Watch said Thursday.
The rights group said the test essentially targets families from developing nations—in particular, Turkey and Morocco—because citizens of the United States, Japan and other developed nations are exempt.
“The overseas integration test is discriminatory because it explicitly applies only to relatives from predominantly non-Western countries,” said Human Rights Watch’s European director Holly Cartner.
“These measures keep families apart and appear to be aimed at keeping certain kinds of people out of the Netherlands.”
While international human rights law allows countries to discriminate between citizens and non-citizens, it doesn’t allow the targeting of individual nationalities on the basis of race or religion.
“Dutch authorities would need extremely powerful reasons to justify” such discrimination, Human Rights Watch said.
The test, primarily a language exam, must be taken at Dutch embassies abroad and costs $540 per attempt. Immigrants also face visa fees amounting to hundreds of dollars per year, and permanent residency or naturalization fees that cost nearly $1,500.
“The impact . . . has fallen primarily on those wanting to join family members from two of the three largest non-Western migrant communities in the Netherlands—Moroccans and Turks,” the rights group said.
Immigration from those countries has fallen sharply since the Dutch government began cracking down in 2003 amid heavy anti-Muslim rhetoric from far-right political parties.
Government spokeswoman Gerda de Lange rejected the criticism. The legality of the policy was “debated thoroughly in parliament and by the Council of State before it was passed” in 2006, she said.
“The law is not discriminatory,” she said. “There are indeed exemptions for some countries, but that’s true of the whole of immigration law.”
All EU citizens, for example, are exempt from the test because European law forbids discrimination between members of EU states. Other countries had pre-existing treaties with the Dutch government on immigration.
She also denied that the policy discriminates against Moroccans and Turks, saying they make up only one-third of applicants.
“The law is intended to ensure that immigrants are better prepared to integrate. They will have more chance of succeeding if they know the basics of Dutch language, history and culture before they arrive,” she said.
“If their aim is to build a new life here, they should begin acquiring the knowledge they’ll need,” she said.
The test made international headlines when it was introduced because preparatory materials include a film with scenes of gay men kissing and a woman walking bare-breasted on the beach—considered an essential introduction to liberal Dutch culture.
If would-be immigrants can’t stomach such practice, no need to apply, the film implied.