Possible exemption from the Dutch Labour Market Orientation exam

Possible exemption from the Dutch Labour Market Orientation exam

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Everaert Advocaten is a respected leader in Dutch migration law. Based in Amsterdam, its multilingual team advises expats on residency and migration-related legal issues.

Recently, there has been some political debate about the (dreaded) "ONA" exam, Orientation of the Dutch Labour Market in full. As part of the integration exam, ONA is a requirement for obtaining permanent residency and / or Dutch citizenship - even for those who have already passed their NT2 state exam (staatsexamen). Below I will outline the debate and the possible outcome thereof for current and future ONA candidates.

What is ONA?

First, let us quickly go over ONA as part of the integration exam. The ONA exam was introduced on January 1, 2015 and is divided into eight central themes; labour orientation, personal skills and challenges, job perspectives, job opportunities, job-specific competences, building a network, finding a job and Dutch work culture.

Together, the works resulting from each of these themes make make up your "portfolio". When a portfolio is approved, the candidate is invited for an interview. This interview is the final part of the ONA exam.

Since its introduction, questions have arisen about the effectiveness of the ONA exam. Especially for those who have already entered the Dutch labour market; either because they hold a highly skilled migrant or Blue Card permit, or because they have (free) access to the labour market, as family members or other. The Dutch government has however, until now, held that the ONA exam is an integral part of the integration exam that is obligatory for all.

Recent ONA debate 

Because of the high influx of (mainly) refugees in 2015 and 2016, all the attention of the involved authorities was concentrated on the immediate problems this caused. Overlooking longer-term concerns resulted in a waiting period of 15 weeks for the final ONA interview at the beginning of 2017.

In a letter to parliament dated February 4, 2018, the State Secretary for Social Affairs and Employment admitted that this was counterproductive to the goal of the ONA exam (which is to improve access to the labour market rather than causing a delay) and proposed five possible measures to solve the problem.

Since its introduction, questions have arisen about the effectiveness of the ONA exam.

Relevant measures

Two of these measures are particularly relevant, as they involve an exemption from the ONA exam and / or interview:

  • People who have followed at least 64 hours of official ONA courses - resulting in a complete portfolio – were to be exempted from the interview.
  • People who already work in the Netherlands were to be exempted from the ONA exam altogether.

Exempting those with 64 hours of ONA courses

This exemption from the ONA interview is based on the average time required to complete the portfolio, and will only be granted based on proof of 64 hours of official ONA courses. Official courses are those followed at institutions with a Blik op Werk certification. Further, the complete portfolio is reviewed by DUO (Dienst Uitvoering Onderwijs) and checked for plagiarism. This new exemption is effective from May 1, 2018.

Exempting those with a job

In a follow-up letter dated April 23, 2018, the State Secretary mentioned that he intends to introduce an additional exemption for the whole of the ONA exam per January 1, 2019, as the administrative procedure to change the regulations will take at least six months. This exemption is supposed to apply to inburgeraars who have been working for at least 12 hours per week for a period of six months, in the 12 months prior to the request.

The question that remains however, is what the State Secretary means by inburgeraars, since this can refer to two things. Inburgeraars is a term used for people taking the integration exam, but can also explicitly refer to those under a legal obligation to take the integration exam.

Most expats holding a highly skilled migrant permit or a Blue Card – as well as their family members – are not legally obliged to take the integration exam, as long as they hold that permit. Only to obtain permanent residency and / or Dutch citizenship do they need to pass the integration exam.

The future of ONA

It’s hard to tell at this point how much of an advantage the new exemptions will prove to be. Most people in a (highly skilled migrant or Blue Card) job don’t follow 64 hours of official ONA courses but prepare their own portfolio. These people will still be required to take the interview according to the newly introduced exemption. Whether 64 hours of official courses is a reasonable alternative to the current 17 week-waiting list for the interview remains to be seen.

Only if the yet to be introduced exemption for people with a job applies to all those taking the integration exam, instead of merely to those legally obliged to do so, will this relieve many expats from the burden of having to ‘orient’ themselves to the same labour market that they are already successfully a part of.

If you have any questions regarding the integration exam, permanent residency or applying for Dutch citizenship, please contact Everaert Advocaten. They are happy to help you!

Eline Van Deijck


Eline Van Deijck

Eline focuses mainly on the business side of migration law. She assists - among others - Chinese companies and represents companies in procedures about fines for illegal employment. From her...

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Leave a comment

Kalpesh Kashyap 16:39 | 11 September 2018

Did anything progressed on this topic?

zoejif 14:03 | 10 December 2018

There is an "Internetconsultatie" on the topic, published jsut a few days ago: