The New Integration Act: its impact on permanent residence and Dutch citizenship applications
On 28 April 2021, the Minister of Social Affairs informed the Parliament that the new Integration Act would come into effect as from 1 January 2022, and that the implementation of this new Act would not be postponed. Under this new Act, the level of the integration exam shall be increased from the level of A2 (beginner’s) to B1 (intermediate). Certain immigrants (eg. spouse of a Dutch citizen) have the duty to integrate into Dutch society. If they fail to integrate within a designated period, they can be financially penalized. Nevertheless, this change to the Integration Act shall have a greater impact on many other immigrants who intend to acquire permanent residency or Dutch citizenship, as the Integration Act is closely intertwined with the Foreign Nationals Act (“Vreemdelingenwet”) and the Dutch Nationality Act (“Rijkswet op het Nederlanderschap”). In this article, we shall explain the ramifications of the new amendment to the Integration Act.
Integration duty (‘inburgeringsplicht’)
First of all, one needs to understand the notion of integration duty (‘inburgeringsplicht’). Under the Integration Act, many immigrants do not have the statutory duty to integrate. These people are namely, highly skilled migrants, European blue card holders, work permit holders, scientific researchers, search year permit holders and students etc. In contrast, family members of a Dutch citizen/permanent residence permit holder have the duty to integrate. It means that, for example, when a highly skilled migrant learns the Dutch language, he is trying to integrate voluntarily. If a highly skilled migrant refuses to integrate, he will not be financially penalized, as he has no integration duty. Instead, if a spouse of a Dutch citizen fails to integrate, he/she can be financially penalized, as he/she has the integration duty.
Current integration requirement (‘inburgeringsvereiste’) for permanent residency and naturalization
As many immigrants may know, if they want to become a permanent resident, they need to pass the integration exam and to meet “the integration requirement” of the Foreign Nationals Act. Currently, an immigrant needs to pass the integration exam at the level of A2 in order to meet the “integration requirement” for becoming a permanent resident. You may have seen the subtle difference between the terminologies used in the Integration Act and the Foreign Nationals Act. In the Integration Act, the phrase “integration duty” is used. The Foreign Nationals Act uses the phrase “integration requirement” and “integration exam”.
Why is it important for you to know this difference? As from 1 January 2022, the whole situation will get a little more complicated. The issue as to whether/since when you have the integration duty shall have a direct impact on the integration requirement that you will need to meet in order to become a permanent resident.
In one of the parliamentarian records, the Dutch GroenLinks party asked the Minister whether the exams (that have already been passed under the current Integration Act) shall be sufficient for a permanent residence permit application or naturalization application after the enforcement of the new Integration Act? Or should the immigrants have to sit the integration exam again and study the language again?
The Minister’s response to this question is opaque and deserves our attention. Hereby, we quote the Minister's response in Dutch:
"Om in aanmerking te komen voor een sterker verblijfsrecht (voortgezet verblijf of een verblijfsvergunning voor onbepaalde tijd) moet op grond van de Vreemdelingenwet 2000 worden voldaan aan het inburgeringsvereiste. Uitgangspunt is en blijft dat een vreemdeling die heeft voldaan aan zijn inburgeringsplicht, daarmee is vrijgesteld van het inburgeringsvereiste voor het verkrijgen van een sterker verblijfsrecht."
Translation: In order to obtain a stronger residence right (continued stay or a permanent residence), the integration requirement of the Foreign Nationals Act must be met. The point of view is and shall be that an immigrant who has fulfilled his integration duty, shall be exempted from the integration requirement for obtaining a stronger residence right.
Under the logic of the current integration laws, with regard to immigrants with integration duty, their arrival date determines the scope of their integration duty. For example, the participation declaration (a section of the current integration exam) only applies to immigrants (with integration duty) who arrive in the Netherlands on/after 1 Oct 2017. If an immigrant (with integration duty) arrived before 1 October 2017, he/she does not need to do the participation declaration. In other words, with regard to immigrants with integration duty, their arrival date is like a ‘stand-still’ factor, meaning that the scope of their integration duty will not become broader, even if the laws become stricter in future. However, with regard to immigrants without integration duty, they need to meet constantly higher requirements of a new law, as their arrival date does not have such a ‘standstill’ effect.
This means that, with regard to most expats (such as, highly skilled migrants, European blue card holders, work permit holders, scientific researchers, search year permit holders and students etc.), on/after 1 January 2022, they will need to pass the integration exam at the level of B1 in order to meet the integration requirement of the Foreign Nationals Act and to get a permanent residence. With regard to family migrants (who have integration duty), after 1 January 2022, they should still be able to use their existing A2 diploma to meet the integration requirement of the Foreign Nationals Act. Please be aware that family members of highly skilled migrant and other expats have no integration duty either. Therefore, the new law will have a direct impact on the family members of highly skilled migrants too.
With regard to the naturalization, the Minister’s response is much clearer, supporting the aforementioned analysis.
"De regering verhoogt volgens de afspraak in het regeerakkoord het voor een naturalisatie vereiste beheersingsniveau van het Nederlands. Het streven is om tegelijkertijd of kort voorafgaand aan het inwerkingtreden van de nieuwe wet inburgering de verhoging bij naturalisatie in te voeren. Vanaf dat moment geldt voor het kunnen naturaliseren dat de verzoeker het Nederlands beheerst op ten minste niveau B1 van het Gemeenschappelijk Europees Referentiekader voor Moderne Vreemde Talen. Voor naturalisatieverzoeken die op dat moment reeds zijn ingediend en in behandeling zijn, blijft het huidige taalniveau A2 gelden. Na het verhogen van het taalbeheersingsniveau worden bewijsstukken waaruit een lager niveau dan B1 blijkt niet aanvaard in een naturalisatieprocedure. Onder omstandigheden zal het jaren na het inburgeringstraject en met het oog op het kunnen naturaliseren voor een vreemdeling nodig zijn om een apart taalexamen Nederlands op B1-niveau te halen."
Translation: In accordance with the agreement in the governance convention, the government shall increase the required proficiency level of the Dutch language for naturalization. The goal is to implement the higher naturalization requirement at the same time of (or shortly before) enforcing the new Integration Act. From that moment onwards, in order to naturalize, the applicant needs to comprehend the Dutch language at least at the level of B1 of the Common European Framework for Reference. For naturalization applications that will have been submitted and will have been in review at that time, the current proficiency level of A2 shall apply. After increasing the proficiency level, evidence showing a level lower than B1 shall not be accepted in a naturalization application procedure. Under circumstances and after many years of integration process, an immigrant may need to sit an additional Dutch language exam at the level of B1 for the purpose of naturalization.
To conclude, if you are an expat (ie. an immigrant without integration duty), it is highly likely that your current integration diploma (at the level of A2) shall not be sufficient for the purpose of acquiring Dutch permanent residency as from 1 January 2022. No matter whether you have integration duty or not, the current integration diploma shall not be sufficient for naturalization in 2022. Therefore, if you have met or about to meet the requirements for permanent residency/naturalization, we strongly recommend that you submit your application this calendar year.
If you want, under certain circumstances, we can help you apply for permanent residence in advance. Should you have any questions about this topic, please do not hesitate to contact Mynta Law.
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