Is it wet or dry in the Netherlands? One of the hundred questions in the exam for migrants from outside the European Union who want to settle in the Netherlands. From now on the exam is obligatory. Newcomers have to report to the Netherlands embassy in their home country where they take the test using voice recognition computer software. If you fail, you don’t get a temporary residence permit. A number of journalists from the Dutch, English, Indonesian and Spanish departments of Radio Netherlands had a go.
What is a typical feature of Dutch traffic? “Bumper-hugging,” grins one of the Indonesian journalists. “No, the answer is bicycles of course,” her Dutch colleague responds.
The questions are about the Dutch language, geography, history, healthcare, the political system, relations between men and women and homosexuality. Is hitting women permitted or an offence?
If you don’t know the answer you can consult the book of exercises issued by the Dutch government. The book also comes with an information film so potential immigrants can prepare for the real exam at the embassy.
The Dutch candidates are pleased to see questions about homosexuality, female circumcision and equality of the sexes. A Sudanese journalist from the Arabic department comments: “In Islamic countries homosexuality is often a punishable offence so it’s good to know this is not the case in the Netherlands”.
“Not that I expect an immigrant from an Islamic country will change his views immediately, that’s far too optimistic an idea. Integration is a process which doesn’t begin until you have somewhere to live and work. But this exam will at least make immigrants aware that the Netherlands has different laws”.
The exam is part of the integration policy of Immigration and Integration Minister Rita Verdonk. She believes it is important that newcomers are fully aware of Dutch norms and values, which is why integration should start in the country or origin, such as Turkey or Morocco.
Critics say the exam is an extra barrier to deter further immigration of marriage partners. Most young people from the second generation of Turkish and Moroccan immigrants still prefer a partner from their parents’ land of origin.
What is the most important law in the Netherlands? “I’ve no idea,” sighs a journalist from Costa Rica. He checks with a colleague from the English department. “The constitution?” she wonders. “When I arrived in this country all I knew about Holland was cheese and smurfs,” adds the Spanish candidate jokingly, “You know, those little blue men”. He thinks would-be immigrants will find the questions pretty tough.
It doesn’t matter if you can’t read or write, beause the system uses voice recognition software. You do have to speak clearly, though. When the computers were being tested they could not always deal with strange accents and correct answers were marked wrong. Apparently the system has been improved since then and is now foolproof.
The journalists find some of the questions a little patronising. Are birthdays celebrated in the Netherlands? “That’s up to the person in question,” says the Indonesian candidate. Is life in the Netherlands expensive or cheap?
“Well, that depends where you come from, a developing country or a western country,” the Dutch journalist points out. She reads out the next question: When should you look for work, as soon as possible or later? “Obviously they want you to answer: as soon as possible”.
Even though there are some strange and patronising questions, the Dutch journalist thinks they give a good picture of Dutch society and are not too difficult. There’s one question she doesn’t know the answer to: Do you have to take your driving test again once you’re in the Netherlands?
If you fail the test at the Netherlands embassy, you won’t get a temporary residence permit. However, you can try again as many times as you like, as long as you pay. Each attempt costs 350 euros and the book of exercises is 65 euros. If you are successful, you are still obliged to continue with language lessons and integration course after you arrive in the Netherlands.
For more information: www.radionetherlands.nl