Who gets to be Dutch?

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

New draft legislation would make it harder to become a Dutch citizen while keeping another passport. At the same time, if approved, the bill could allow thousands of so-called latent Dutch people to finally become fully Dutch.

Ahead of Tuesday’s debate in parliament, Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin takes a practical approach to questions of acquiring citizenship. Clear rules, applicable to everyone, but some new limitations as well.

Requirements for foreign nationals to become Dutch:

  • Five years of residence in the Netherlands
  • Pass test of Dutch language and knowledge of Dutch society
  • Give up own nationality
  • Never served time in prison or had to pay excessive fines in the last four years

Visit the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation website for more info

In answer to the question who can become Dutch, Minister Hirsch Ballin keeps it simple.

“One essential requirement for obtaining the Dutch nationality is the ability to express yourself in society as a Dutch citizen. And that requires knowledge and understanding of the Dutch language.”

A language test has been required for a few years now, but the new law extends the language test to those becoming Dutch citizens in the Dutch Antilles and Aruba (even on the islands where Dutch is not the principle language).

The new law maintains the five-year residency requirement, but adds a restriction: a new Dutch citizen must renounce his or her former nationality.

For many, this is a controversial measure. On the one hand, there are at the moment about 1.1 million Dutch citizens who have another nationality as well. The trend in other western countries is to allow double nationality, given the increasing mobility in an era of globalization.

Jeroen Dijsselbloem is a Labour MP. He says:

“For the future there’s very little ground to hold on to that rule. Many other countries, and more countries every year, decide to give up on that principle of the one nationality. We’re one of the few countries in Europe that is still holding onto the one nationality principle.”

Others criticize the measure as not going far enough. The new law includes exceptions for those whose original country does not allow its subjects to renounce their citizenship, such as Morocco or Greece.

When the current cabinet was installed, it included two members with dual nationality. Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party questioned their loyalty to the Netherlands, and said dual nationals should not serve in government functions. Freedom Party MP Sietse Fritsma explains:

“The law of the Netherlands is not the same as for example the law of Turkey or Morocco. We should avoid conflicting systems of laws and duties. That’s the reason my party wants to get rid of dual citizenship for new cases.”

But the Freedom Party can be happy with another change in the nationality law. People who harm the interests of The Netherlands can now have their citizenship revoked. This change is thanks to the anxious climate following the bombings in New York, London and Madrid, and two political murders in the Netherlands.

The last change in the law corrects a long-standing inequality. Until 1985, a Dutch woman could not pass on citizenship to her children if she had a foreign partner and gave birth abroad. The new law corrects this, and could allow as many as 90,000 so-called latent Dutch to acquire citizenship.