Inburgering for expats

Inburgering for expats

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The law firm Franssen Advocaten in Amsterdam is specialised in (international) family law and Dutch and European immigration law. 

When I say “inburgering for expats”, I am talking about the non-EU citizen who holds a work-related residence permit granted for a specific length of time ("bepaalde tijd"). This is usually a “highly skilled job” ("kennismigrant") residence permit (which says in fine print on the back: “arbeid als kennismigrant”).

The fact that the term “kennismigrant” is usually translated into English as “highly skilled migrant” is, in my view, a source of confusion. This permit holder is not being granted an autonomous right to work for whomever they like in the Netherlands due to their skills or education; rather, the holder is being permitted to stay in the Netherlands because they are needed by a qualifying Dutch employer who is willing to pay them a certain qualifying salary, for a job that is generally considered to be “highly skilled”.

As such, the holder of such a residence permit is by no means irreplaceable. As soon as they do not have a qualifying job with a qualifying Dutch employer for longer than 90 days, the holder will lose their right to stay in the Netherlands for the purpose of working here.

The cold, hard reality

I cannot emphasise the above enough to whoever is a holder of such a residence permit and who may have been sheltered from the cold, hard reality of Dutch immigration law until now.

Most likely, you were granted your residence permit in a highly accelerated procedure that required you and your core family members to wait no more than three weeks in your home country, if at all, before issuance of the visa and residence permit. If you were already given an indefinite employment contract, you will also have been granted your residence permit for the maximum length of validity before renewal is necessary: five years.

You were probably granted the generous tax allowance of the 30% ruling in order to offset the hardship and expense of relocating to the Netherlands. And you may even have been given a mortgage by a Dutch bank to buy a home here.

None of those things, however, should be interpreted as meaning that you have an unconditional right of residence in the Netherlands, or that you are being selected as an ideal member of society.

A fitting metaphor for the aforementioned benefits is seeing your life in the Netherlands as an airline flight. The ticket has been bought for you, and the airline drives you to the gate and gives you priority boarding in first or business class. Only you thought that the reason they gave you a seat in the exit row was to give you extra legroom.

The advantages of a long-term residence permit

It is only by painting this bleak picture that I can begin to explain the legal importance of “inburgering”, even if you may not see any practical advantage of gaining the skills to be able to participate as a “burger” (citizen) in Dutch society.

Indeed, the expats who are able to get by in English in an international environment may even experience enormous social pressure, even from Dutch people in their immediate environment, not to gain the skills to participate in the Dutch society.

But the goal I set for all of my clients who are non-EU citizens moving to the Netherlands, whose rights are limited at first, is to gain an unconditional right to live in the Netherlands: a residence permit that is called a long-term residence permit or LTR ("langdurig ingezetene") nowadays, or sometimes still an indefinite residence permit ("verblijfsvergunning voor onbepaalde tijd"), or unofficially a “permanent” residence permit.

The advantages of such an immigration status are:

  • You are allowed to work wherever you like, in employment or self-employment, or not to work if you choose not to.
  • You are entitled to any and all forms of social assistance that Dutch nationals are entitled to.
  • You are entitled to statutory tuition at Dutch universities, the same amount as what EU citizens pay.

What’s more (at least with the newfangled LTR status), you have the right to completely move away from the Netherlands for a certain period of time (up to 12 months to a non-EU country, 6 years to an EU country) and retain an unconditional right to return and work. There are also certain, limited rights of mobility to most other EU countries attached to the LTR status.


The three requirements to obtain an unconditional right of stay are:

  1. Five years of living in the Netherlands, while continuously being in the possession of a valid residence permit; the current residence permit has to be for what's called a "non-temporary" purpose (so not, for instance, as a student or in conjunction with an exchange programme).
  2. Having a sufficient, stable income.
  3. Passing the "inburgeringsexamen", which you can sign up to take by using your DigiD at

There is no way around this third requirement, unless you have reached legal retirement age (currently 68 years and counting), or if you have a severe disability that prevents you from preparing for the exam.


There are also a lot of misconceptions about preparing for the exam. Some mistakenly think that you have to participate in an "inburgeringscursus", or that they are not allowed to take the exam because they are not a family member of a Dutch national or an asylum seeker (i.e. the classes of immigrants who are required to pass the exam).

Others assume that the exam is really only about the notorious “knowledge of Dutch society” questions (which rightly earn a great deal of scorn), and as a result think that they should not even bother. When it’s really quite simple. Roughly 95% of what you need to do to prepare for the exam is simply: LEARN DUTCH. And only at an A2 level at that (they’re really not asking that much in terms of fluency level).

The "Stupid Stuff"

You can learn Dutch any way you choose, from any school or any teacher, or even through self-study if you are particularly motivated. And if you have just arrived as a "kennismigrant", there’s no time like the present to get started. Five years can go by incredibly fast.

As for the rest of the "inburgeringsexamen" (i.e. the 5% “Stupid Stuff”): there are numerous books available to help you essentially memorise the “correct” answers for the Kennis van de Nederlandse Maatschappij (KNM) exam.

Another part of the “Stupid Stuff” is the more notorious Orientatie op de Nederlandse Arbeidsmarkt (ONA) exam. In this exam, you have to pretend to apply for a job and then be evaluated, during a live interview, on your ability to interview.

Fortunately, for the working expats that this article is for: the government member in charge of integration, Wouter Koolmees, has announced that this particular exam requirement will be abolished for anyone who has a steady job, probably as of January 1, 2019.

Clients are always advised to contact a specialised attorney in international family law and immigration, such as Franssen Advocaten, when dealing with such matters.

This boutique law firm deals with these issues frequently and has a lot of experience in assisting expats with immigration issues. Jeremy Bierbach has particular expertise on the subject of inburgering, having won several court cases in this area.

Contact Franssen Advocaten now

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Jeremy Bierbach


Jeremy Bierbach

Jeremy Bierbach is an attorney-at-law at Franssen Advocaten, a niche law firm specialized in immigration and (international) family law. He advises expats on immigrating to the Netherlands, their rights as...

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Jaydeep Panchal 17:30 | 30 September 2020

Hi thanks for this article. I have 2 questions. 1. I have a job and MVV visa , do I need to pass ONA? Also my wife is not working ,but she is freelancer (zzper) Does she need to pass ONA ? And does she close the business ( because coronacrisis) does she need to pass ONA? 2. What is the current level of exam A2? And if I cannot clear some of parts of exam or cannot pass full exam next year what can be language level for my exam? Thanks for your time. Regards, Jaydeep