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Dutch policies bridge the gap between natives and immigrantsImage: Illuscope

Integration: Learning from Holland

June 24, 2002

Immigration reformers in Germany need look no further than their next-door neighbor. Progressive policies in immigration and integration have long been the norm in Holland, and Germany is starting to take notice.


Two years ago, German legislators peeked into their neighbor's backyard in search of models for integrating new immigrants.

The commission charged with drafting an immigration reform proposal headed by the former president of
the German parliament, Rita Süssmuth of the Christian Democratic Union, found the Dutch programs "exemplary."

Some of the lessons learned in Holland are reflected in Germany's first-ever immigration law, which was passed in March and signed into law on Thursday.

The integration of foreigners by means of language and orientation courses, which have proven successful in the Netherlands for nearly five years, are among the law's primary aims.

One of the keys to the success of the Dutch "active integration" approach is that it demands that immigrants take their own initiative. It includes a system of benefits and sanctions to encourage immigrants to complete the

Pulling themselves up by their bootstraps

Six weeks after arrival, every newcomer is required to enlist in a free educational program. The courses on culture studies, work life and language are tailor-made to meet the needs of the individual.

A personally assigned "integration pilot" serves as a guide, providing social and professional orientation. Upon completing the one-year program, participants are required to take a test that proves them to be eligible for
job training and further education administered through their community of residence.

Should an individual fail to enlist in the program or skip the examination without a valid excuse, social insurance benefits are reduced.

The German adaptation follows in the same direction, providing stiff penalties like benefits cuts, for those that fail to attempt to integrate themselves. At the same time, numerous details had to be watered-down for practical reasons.

Beyond Germany’s means

First and foremost, the Dutch program is too expensive.

"Doing it like the Dutch would be like buying a Mercedes when all we can afford is a Polo," says Gerhard Fiedler, executive director of the German Language Association.

Indeed, the Dutch spend considerably more on integration efforts per person than Germany. "We should keep in mind that the Netherlands spends 6,000 euros ($5,720) per person, almost five times as much as the sum we're prepared to pay," says Barbara John, commissioner for foreigners' affairs in the city-state of Berlin.

The Netherlands has been offering integration courses to immigrants from countries outside the European Union since 1998. The government in The Hague invests 45 million euro ($45 million) a year in its integration programs and has plans to double that amount.

The Dutch also have a Ministry of Urban Policy and Integration of Minorities, which is responsible for distributing funds for the programs. Germany, by contrast, has no centralized agency. Instead, a handful of public institutions compete for funds.

Holland's colonial benevolence

Holland's excellent infrastructure for integration partially stems from the fact that public and political attitudes toward immigration are 20 years ahead of their German counterparts.

The Dutch are still a colonial power, and more than 40 percent of the foreign-born immigrants living in the country come from Suriname or Indonesia, former colonies. Turkish and Morroccans constitute the next biggest slice of the immigrant population

And out of all European countries, the Netherlands naturalizes the highest amount of immigrants. Nine percent of the applications for citizenship are approved compared to a rate of 1.1 percent in Germany.

Holland is a nation that welcomes immigrants. Despite the recent government efforts to make Germany more attractive to highly skilled foreign workers and to offer immigrants inside Germany better integration opportunities -- including a faster naturalization process -- the majority of Germans don't want more immigrants, a fact reconfirmed by poll after poll.

Indeed, the words uttered years ago by former Chancellor Helmut Kohl still ring true in the attitudes of many in Germany: "Germany is not a country of immigration."

But with its planned integration program, the Germany government is taking a major step toward making immigration more successful. And as immigrants become better versed in German language and culture, advocates hope the attitude towards their presence changes for the better.

Note: This is the second article in a two-part series on the language and integration programs that have been prescribed by the government in its new integration law.

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