Why do I need a Dutch immigration attorney?
For many expats, it may seem unnecessary or undesirable to consult or make use of the services provided by a Dutch attorney specialised in immigration law. Jeremy Bierbach from Franssen Advocaten in Amsterdam explains why you might need a Dutch immigration attorney after all.
I take no pleasure in seeing people who have this attitude towards having an immigration attorney head into bad situations, resulting in me to having to help them fix a problem (with an appeal procedure) that they or their employer have gotten into, or having to tell them that the problem can’t be fixed anymore.
Employers and relocation services may be reasonably adept at filling in the forms for kennismigrant procedures when they are straightforward but may be uncertain about the slightly more complex issues of Dutch immigration law, or unaware of minor mistakes they make such as missing final deadlines or not sending all the documents necessary to complete applications. It's also not always possible to approach your employer to ask them about matters that are not in their interest, such as you leaving to go work for a different employer.
Not always a reliable source
The IND (the Dutch immigration authority), for its part, is not always a reliable source of information if you call them on the phone (even if you know the right question to ask) or consult their website.
The telephone operator that you get may mean well, but you must remember that the IND doesn’t have the budget to pay real experts to work in their call centres, and Dutch immigration law is made up of a great number of complex rules, balanced against provisions of international treaties. Moreover, it is not that person’s job to represent your interests; rather, it is their job to represent the interests of the Dutch government.
The rule of law
What I find to be truly wonderful about practising Dutch immigration law, however, is that it is not the IND itself, acting as Kafka’s proverbial gatekeeper, that determines who gets to pass through the gate.
It is the law that determines that: the legislation passed by the Dutch parliament, the policy adopted by the Dutch government, and international treaties, which according to Articles 93 and 94 of the Dutch Constitution have direct effect and even take precedence over Dutch legislation when they guarantee individual rights.
In the Netherlands, which is consistently ranked at the top of the World Justice Project's Rule of Law Index, the aspects of the rule of law that are most relevant here are that a government agency like the IND is obliged to adhere to the law in a predictable way, that the law cannot be applied arbitrarily or differently based on personal favour or disfavour, and that all administrative decisions are subject to review by an independent judiciary, which has the last word on the proper interpretation of the law.
I always approach the IND, on behalf of my clients, as an opponent: an opponent that (mostly) plays fairly and does not take offence when I point out (by taking them to court) when they are not playing by the rules. If a professional wins a case against the IND for you and they have to admit that they have made a wrong decision, the IND will even pay you a (nominal) compensation for your legal expenses.
A Dutch attorney is not just a lawyer
Why is it in your interest to make use of a specialised Dutch attorney (advocaat) to help you navigate the complex rules of the game? A Dutch attorney is not just a lawyer, i.e. has not just completed four years of law school.
The small percentage of law school graduates who go on to join the bar as attorneys swear an oath to only act in their clients’ interest, then they have to practice under the close supervision of a senior attorney for three years, all the while taking intensive courses for their unconditional bar qualification that is obtained with tough exams.
Code of conduct
Attorneys are subject to a rigorous code of conduct (and disciplinary procedures for violating it) based on the five key qualities of:
All of our communication with a client is subject to strict confidentiality, which is also protected by law so that we can have a relationship of absolute trust with a client.
"Partial” as in the opposite of “impartial”, meaning we always take our client’s side when communicating with the outside world.
We are not merely our clients’ employees, but we have to have the freedom to get the job done as we see fit, also to decide whom we take on as clients in the first place.
We cannot do just anything for money and we will turn down an assignment if the client is asking us to violate our integrity.
All attorneys are required to be up-to-date on legislative and judicial developments in their area of expertise, to honestly say when they do not have expertise in a given area, and to obtain 20 continuing education points a year by taking courses, teaching courses, or writing articles.
This means that you will have a trusted and confidential relationship with someone who can “spar” with you, running through all the scenarios of the law that could apply to you in different circumstances. Attorneys are also the only legal professionals authorised by the State Council for Legal Aid to provide subsidised legal representation to low-income clients.
Specialist Association of Migration Law Attorneys
In the area of immigration law, the true specialists can be found in the Specialist Association of Migration Law Attorneys (Specialisten Vereniging Migratierecht Advocaten, SVMA), whose members have to have a number of years of experience primarily practising Dutch immigration law and are required to obtain at least 10 of their annual continuing education points specifically in the area of immigration law.
The law firm Franssen Advocaten in Amsterdam is specialised in (international) family law and Dutch and European immigration law. If you need tailor-made advice about immigration law, don’t hesitate to contact them.
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