Court thwarts Dutch immigration policy

By Marjolein van de Water

The European Court of Justice has upended the minimum income requirement for foreign marriage partners. More aspects of Dutch immigration policy could be at odds with European law.

The Moroccan M. Chakroun had lived in the Netherlands for two years when he married in 1972. His new wife remained in Morocco, while he worked as a manufacturing employee until he lost his job in 2005. A year later, Mrs. Chakroun applied for a Dutch residency permit so she could be with her husband. The request was denied: her husband’s unemployment benefits were below the required minimum income of 120 percent of minimum wage.

Many immigrants marry Dutch men

Of all foreign marriage partners.who moved to the Netherland in 2009 (10,000), a third came here to marry a native. Three out of four were women marrying Dutch men, a study by E-quality has shown.

Half of all immigrants are partners of another first generation immigrant. Approximately 14 percent come to the Netherlands to marry a second generation immigrant.

Most spousal immigrants are from Turkey (12.5 percent), Somalia (9 percent) and India (8.3 percent).

The Chakrouns appealed their case, finally ending up in the Court of Justice of the European Union, which ruled in the couple’s favour last week. The minimum income requirement for foreign marriage partners, which is higher in the Netherlands than anywhere else in the EU, is at odds with the European right to family reunifications.as laid down in European Council Directive 2003/86/EC.

Exit minimum income requirement

After the European court reprimanded the Netherlands for its policy, justice minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin told parliament this week he would be dropping the 120-percent requirement. His department will also stop distinguishing between people who were already married before they came to the Netherlands and people who want to bring a new partner here.

The minister was left with no other options, said professor Kees Groenendijk, the chairman of the Radboud University’s Centre for Migration Law. “The court’s ruling is unambiguous and sends a clear message to the Dutch government. It has been ignoring European regulations for years.”

Groenendijk thinks other aspects of Dutch policy will also need to be upended because they are at odds with European regulations. The minimum age requirement (21) for foreign marriage partners the Netherlands has introduced for instance, or the language test prospective immigrants are required to take in their country of origin before coming for the Netherlands. “The right to family reunification is fixed in European law. It is legally impossible to deny people that right.”

Minister Hirsch Ballin said he still stood behind an earlier letter he sent to parliament at the end of last year, announcing even stricter measures. He then proposed a ban on recognising marriages between first cousins and introducing a minimum education requirement for immigrants. The government is also looking to raise the bar on the language requirement.

Encouraging assimilation?

Groenendijk said these proposals were also in disagreement with European regulations: “The EU directive does not allow excluding people based on their marriage to a cousin or education,” he said.

Stricter legislation on family migration was introduced by a government comprised of conservative Christian Democrats and right-wing liberals between 2003 and 2006. Dutch government data show the number of successful requests for foreign marriage partners dropped from 23,000 in 2003 to 11,000 in 2007.

The government hopes stricter policies will prevent forced marriage and encourage assimilation and emancipation. Whether Ballin’s proposed measure would have such an effect remains to be seen, however. A study by the justice department’s science bureau could not find any relation between foreign marriage partners and forced marriage. Forced marriage is also common between partners both living in the Netherlands, as is marriage between cousins, according to the study. It also showed that young people who are looking to bring a partner to the Netherlands from abroad often quit school to get a job in order to meet the minimum income requirement. This means a negative impact on societal integration.

A stricter admittance policy will do little to improve emancipation and assimilation, according to Sabine Kraus, who is a policy worker for E-quality, a think tank for emancipation, family and diversity issues. The Dutch government has put an undeserved emphasis on reducing foreign marriage partners as much as possible, she said. “You cannot prevent family reunification, so that shouldn’t be your national focus. If you are looking to improve integration and emancipation, you should offer foreign marriage partners a fitting trajectory. That is a more effective way of preventing immigrants from drawing benefits.”

Kraus feels too little attention is devoted to talents and possibilities of immigrants who have often enjoyed an education back in their native countries. “Women are put in trajectories meant for housewives, even though most of them are highly motivated to work and learn. Cabinet’s goals regarding emancipation and integration would be better served if it appealed to that desire,” she added.

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