I'm a freelance journalist currently residing in the Netherlands.
Major changes to Dutch immigration laws impact expat couples14 May 2012, by Brandon H.
Over the past few years, Dutch officials have tightened the laws governing expats in the Netherlands. In addition to increasing fees for residency permits and applications in 2011, the IND (Immigratie en Naturalisatiedienst), the government's immigration department, announced three major policy alterations on April 11.
If you're an expat and you're currently planning to bring a partner over from another country, you'll want to read the following closely. The most significant of these changes will likely apply to you and your significant other.
The biggest switch will impact unmarried couples and will go into effect on July 1, 2012. As of that date, the IND will no longer accept residency permit applications for unmarried partners. As it stands now, expats in relationships need only share the same address in the Netherlands in order to apply for residency. Applications filed prior to this date will not be subjected to this new policy and it will not impact couples who already have residency permits and thus, can renew it after July 1.
In addition, the unmarried partners of citizens of the European Union will still be able to apply for legal residency after living at the same address for six months.
Additional changes to existing immigrant policies include: not allowing expats with residency permits to leave the Netherlands for a period exceeding six months (the current rules are set to nine months), an end to residency permits for "family visits" and, most troubling, an increase in the number of years required for "continued residency" (AKA "voortgezet verblijf" in Dutch legal terminology).
Currently, the partner of a Dutch citizen or resident need only reside with them for three years before they can become a citizen or resident of the Netherlands themselves. This will now be upped to five years.
It should go without saying that these policy alterations will force many new expats to become even more dependent on their resident / citizen partners. The changes could also lead to plenty of ugly situations if their relationships take a turn for the worse.
For example, let's say you move to the Netherlands because you've fallen head over heels in love with a Dutch person. You quit your job, sell your belongings and relocate to be with them. Now, a few years later, you're loving life in the Netherlands.
Photo by Flickr user Thomas Leth-Olsen
You have a great job, a fantastic group of friends and a nice house you co-own with your partner. Then, low and behold, things don't work out. As of July 1, unless you've been living in the country for five years, you'll likely face deportation.
All together, these changes will bring the Netherlands' immigration laws in regards to partners more in line with other countries like the United States, which have required expat couples to be married for decades.
Regardless, these new policies have become the subject of criticism. In an era during which couples are getting married later in life, or not married at all, and when divorce rates seem to be climbing higher and higher around the world, the updated rules strikes many as "old fashioned" at best and "another xenophobic crackdown on expats" at worst.
The Dutch, in general, have a relatively lax attitude towards marriage. Many couples in the Netherlands opt not to get married, even if they have children, and often prefer to define the nature of their relationships themselves, free from the dictates of the national government.
These changes present a double-standard for couples where one or both partners are from outside the EU, forcing them to get married when they might prefer to cohabitate and avoid the restrictions inherent to matrimony. It's also curious that this right is being taken away from couples of mixed nationalities, whereas European couples will not be impacted.