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Netherlands - Parliament approves modified integration law

Expatica News, July 10, 2006

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Amsterdam -- It seems likely that the controversial integration law will come into effect on 1 January as originally planned.

MPs in the Dutch parliament approved a modified version of the legislation on Friday. Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's minority coalition government was ratified on the same day.

Fatma Koser Kaya of the Democrat D66 party was the only MP to vote against the legislation that was drawn up by Immigration and Integration Minister Rita Verdonk.

Opposition parties, Labour (PvdA), Socialist Party (SP), green-left GroenLinks, D66 and Christian group ChristenUnie would have preferred to delay the vote until after the summer to await advice from the Council of State. The Council has been asked whether forcing naturalised residents to take an integration course is discriminatory.

The law states that newcomers and certain groups of 'oldcomers' must pass an integration exam on the Dutch language and culture. Candidates can face sanctions if they do not pass the test within a certain period of time. Many people will have to pay for the cost of the course and exam themselves.

Verdonk wants to introduce the law on 1 January and local councils need the intervening months to lay the ground work for the courses.

A compromise was agreed last week under which the most controversial article on integration for established and naturalised immigrants was removed from the legislation to await the Council of State's ruling.

The legislation can be amended in the autumn based on the Council of State's findings.

Other changes give local councils more say on the content and allow more people to benefit from cheaper courses. The concessions were sufficient for the PvdA, SP, GroenLinks and ChristenUnie to support the integration law.

The government Christian Democrat (CDA) and Liberal (VVD) parties also had reservations but the changes persuaded them to vote for it, as did the populist LPF, Christian SGP and independents Hilbrand Nawijn and Geert Wilders.

The left-wing parties are still critical of elements of the law. 'But better something than nothing,' said MP Na´ma Azough (GroenLinks).

Labour's Jeroen Dijsselbloem noted the target group covered by the law is much smaller than Verdonk had originally envisaged.

It is estimated that roughly 250,000 people who have already settled in the Netherlands will have to take an integration course, along with new arrivals. When Verdonk started work on the law three years ago, she had a figure of 800,000 in mind.




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