Immigration numbers ´too high´

Edition 31 January, by Femke van Iperen

Dutch ministers want predictable immigration numbers. Others say it’s time to look at the bigger picture.
This January, vice prime minister De Jonge (CDA) expressed concern with the number of people coming to live in the Netherlands and said it should be lowered. The previous month, Prime Minister Mark Rutte told Telegraaf readers the Schengen borders should be more closely monitored. But, say others, isn’t there a wider picture to be considered?

From 2003 to 2007 the Dutch migration balance (immigration minus emigration) was negative, i.e. there were fewer immigrants than emigrants, but in 2018 this figure stood at 86,371. In an NRC interview titled ‘De Jonge sharpens dividing line within coalition on migration,’ minister De Jonge said that the number of 80,000 was ‘too high’. He also said that, rather than putting a number on it, he preferred the idea of an ‘objective’, which, he said, would help make the number of labour migrants and refugees arriving into the Netherlands ‘predictable’. This, he said, is needed since migration is something that ‘makes the Dutch feel insecure’. Whilst he does not consider a complete stop to immigration the answer (the resultant population decrease, he argued, would have detrimental effects on health care and the economy), he did say that, if the country wants to continue helping refugees, which according to him it has a responsibility to do, immigration has to be limited.

De Jonge was the second minister in a short time to highlight immigration. Just before Christmas the Prime Minister voiced his concern about the external borders of the European Union, which, he said, should be more closely monitored, and said that ‘serious action’ was needed in the coming years. The open borders of the Schengen zone, he argued, are under pressure because of the ‘large number of disadvantaged migrants who are walking through Europe’, arguing that it was time for ‘the countries at the external borders to distinguish between genuine asylum seekers and economic migrants who have no real reason for coming here’.

Last year, Finance minister Wopke Hoekstra reasoned the Netherlands should more clearly ‘define what degree of immigration and integration we can successfully support’, and that ‘the bar for those refugees who can stay must be raised considerably’, because otherwise the Dutch are ‘at risk of losing their Dutch identity bit by bit’.

Looking at the bigger picture
In January Het Parool newspaper argued that those who want to restrict immigration, such as De Jonge, should also consider the importance of employees from abroad: construction workers, nurses, ICT specialists, bankers and so on, and that a lowering of immigration numbers would result in negative consequences for the economy, staff shortages and lower attraction for foreign businesses, which could be particularly detrimental for ‘immigration city’ Amsterdam.

Also looking at a bigger picture, an opinion piece by De Volkskrant in January this year argued that the words of De Jonge were not supported by facts that are relevant in the broader social and economic context. The article argued that a substantial reduction of the migration balance would require a reduction in the numbers of certain types of immigrants, such as foreign students. The author also warned that if politicians such as De Jonge continue to fail to come up with a clear solution to immigration numbers, voters would lean towards radical right-wing parties which promise to put a rigorous end to migration.

An article by Trouw newspaper in January 2020, titled ‘Who are those migrants that CDA minister De Jonge wants to curb?’ stated that, of the total number of people who migrated to the Netherlands in 2018, for more than half it would have been difficult to refuse entry. Thirteen percent had Dutch nationality, the article said, and another 41 percent had an EU passport. The author also said that in the last 20 years people have come to live in the Netherlands from Germany, the UK, France, Belgium and the US ‘for the love of the country’. This shows that a growing group of immigrants is made up of highly-skilled and educated people, such as Indian nationals who work in IT, who are allowed to come to the Netherlands under a special arrangement. Furthermore, the number of foreign students has grown explosively over the past decade and is expected to continue to grow.

In July 2019, the Dutch Statistics Office CBS stated that the number of immigrants from Europe in particular increased, and the number of migrants with an Asian and American background also rose. The fastest-growing groups of migrants have a background in the former Soviet Union, the UK and Turkey.