A testing time for immigrants

A new entrance test for would-be immigrants to the Netherlands has been condemned by some as Islamophobic and detrimental to the country’s economy. The “civic integration” test, part of a broader government policy shift on immigration, came into effect in February.

It includes the compulsory viewing of a film which includes scenes of gay men kissing and topless women. Critics say the film, which forms part of a study pack for would-be immigrants, is designed to discourage applicants from Muslim countries who may be offended by its content.

Arzu Merali, spokeswoman for the London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission, says the test indicates that Muslims are not welcome. People seeking entrance from other EU countries, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan do not have to take it.

“Sadly the Dutch authorities are now openly exhibiting the type of Islamophobia that sends a very clear message to wider society,” Merali said. She said the message is that new Muslim immigrants are unwelcome, as are those already present who do not conform to a uniform idea of a Dutch citizen.

Rita Verdonk, the immigration minister, said the latest initiative is aimed at instilling Dutch values. “It is important that you not be afraid to make clear demands of people – that they subscribe to our European values, that they respect our laws and learn the language,” she said.

After viewing the 105-minute film, which is available in most languages, applicants are required to take an exam – costing $417 – on facts about the country such as its provincial structure, Queen Beatrix’s monarchical functions and the role of William of Orange in Dutch history.

Applicants need a basic command of the Dutch language and will be tested on their knowledge of Dutch culture.

Karel Steenbrink, a theologian based at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, describes the immigration minister’s move as “strange”. “Verdonk does not see immigrants as people enriching our culture and country … That is why she ordered this film,” he said.

The professor questioned the inclusion of some of the more graphic images in a general film on the Netherlands. “You can only see it [topless women] a few weeks a year in the Netherlands because it is so cold here,” he said, “and then only in restricted places. You seldom see it. Verdonk knows the reaction to the film would be one of fear, anger … she works like that.”

Verdonk has also said that the Netherlands may introduce penalties for long-term residents or citizens who fail language or culture classes.

Al Jazeera, 6 April 2006