PRAGUE, April 5, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Dutch Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk says there are over 600,000 people in her country who don't speak proper Dutch and are mostly unemployed.
Verdonk argues that the Netherlands can no longer afford to welcome immigrants who will not integrate into mainstream society, which is why she has advocated a new restrictive visa system.
Under the new policy, which went into effect last month, would-be immigrants seeking a residency visa will have to pass a "civic-integration examination" before they arrive in the Netherlands. Applicants will have to pass a Dutch-language test administered at the Dutch Embassy in their country of origin.
One Dutch analyst says, "it's more a measure of controlling immigration than of promoting integration."
They will also have to take an exam testing their compatibility with Dutch liberal values. The exam includes a movie featuring homosexuals kissing and a scene at a nude beach. The movie emphasizes the point that this is all part of normal life in the Netherlands.
The film has elicited the most controversy, with opponents saying it has been deliberately made to offend -- and exclude -- devout Muslims.
The government denies this. But most of the 600,000 unemployed immigrants that Verdonk referred to are Muslims, mostly of Turkish and Moroccan origin.End Of Multiculturalism
For years, Dutch society has been known for its promotion of multiculturalism and its tolerant attitude to the languages and customs of immigrants.
But according to polls, Dutch public opinion has been changing for years, with most people now in favor of the government's new assimilation drive, says Meindert Fennema, a professor at the University of Amsterdam and a specialist on immigration.
"We have figures from 1994 onward which indicate that some 90 percent of the Dutch population answers the question: 'Would you like to have a more assimilationist integration policy?' with 'Yes,'" Fennema tell RFE/RL. "That figure has only gone up slightly in the last decade,"
The murder of outspoken Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004 by a Dutch-Moroccan Islamic extremist served as a catalyst, prompting many politicians and commentators to warn that Dutch values were under threat. The biggest menace, they argue, comes from unassimilated Muslims, trying to undermine the foundations of Dutch democracy.No More 'Import' Wives
Kees Groenendijk, the head of the Center For Migration Law at the University of Nijmegen, says one of the government's arguments for the new "civic-integration examination" is that it will force Moroccan and Turkish immigrants already living in the Netherlands to stop "importing" wives from their home countries -- thus breaking the cycle of nonassimilation.
Under the new rules, even someone seeking to immigrate to the Netherlands as a spouse will have to pass the language and culture exam. If they fail, they will not get a visa.
"The integration test abroad has been justified in the parliamentary discussions with reference to the idea that young Dutchmen of Moroccan and Turkish origin should look for a spouse in the Netherlands rather than for spouses in their country of origin because this would continue problems with integration, as the minister has formulated it," Groenendijk says.Just Keeping Out Poor Muslims?
Opponents of the new integration law say it is openly discriminatory. They point out that the test costs a lot of money, 350 euros ($430), which has to be paid in advance. Also, it is hard to get Dutch-language training abroad.
And citizens of some wealthy countries, including Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, are exempt. If a Dutchman marries a Japanese woman, for example, she is free to come to the Netherlands, with no language test and no required movie to watch on "Dutch values."
Groenendijk says the new law seems to be more about keeping poor, mostly Muslim immigrants out, rather than integrating foreigners into Dutch society:
"In my view, the immigration test abroad is not only a violation of the new EU directive on the right to family reunification, but it's also discriminatory in that it exempts people from rich countries on grounds that have nothing to do with integration," he says. "And this indicates that it's more a measure of controlling immigration than of promoting integration."
The Netherlands is not the only European country that has begun to restrict immigration or citizenship only to people it sees as culturally or economically desirable.
Britain recently announced it will rate potential immigrants according to a point system that will favor well-educated or highly skilled workers, and two German states recently proposed new citizenship tests that would question applicants' views on forced marriage, homosexuality, women's rights, and terrorism.
In the Netherlands, Immigration Minister Verdonk dismisses claims that the new immigrants test will damage the country's reputation as an open nation. "We have a problem in Dutch society," she told journalists recently, arguing that it was time to start doing something about it.
Ironically, according to a United Nations report issued on April 4, immigration today accounts for 75 percent of the population growth in the industrialized world.
If current trends continue, the "Report on World Population Monitoring" says that within a decade, immigrants from developing countries will be responsible for all the population growth in Europe, Japan, and North America.
Maintaining that growth will be crucial if those countries are to avoid an economic crisis. But it seems many Europeans feel under siege and their governments are increasingly responding by closing the door to immigrants.