Dutch unveil culture exam in immigration crackdown

WOULD-BE IMMIGRANTS into the Netherlands are to face an exam testing detailed knowledge of everything from Dutch language and history to its laws on topless sunbathing before taking up residence there.

A new inburgeringsexamen, or integration exam, has been unveiled as part of the crackdown against immigration after last year's murder of the controversial film-maker Theo van Gogh, who was an outspoken critic of Islam. That assassination, which shocked the Dutch nation, has stoked up a vigorous debate on how to assimilate the country's ethnic minorities.

The exam plan, which still needs parliamentary approval, has provoked protests from critics who say they measure is a knew-jerk reaction and that it will create one of the highest entry barriers to immigrants anywhere in the western world.

Initially the tests will only be required of foreigners applying for an immigration visa from outside the Netherlands but Rita Verdonk, the Dutch immigration minister, said she plans to extend examinations to people already living in the country. That means that some 755,000 people already in Holland could eventually be required to prove their knowledge of Dutch history and language, or risk a fine and possibly the loss of residency rights.

Those who want to come to the Netherlands will have to take the exam in their home country before being granted a visa, unless they come from countries exempted from the law, which include other EU states and the US. They will have to pay a fee of about Û350 (pounds 240) to take the test, which will be administered in Dutch embassies around the world.

Ms Verdonk's ministry estimates that some 250 to 350 hours of study will be needed to pass the test, which will be taken by dialling into a speech- controlled computer system by telephone. Those sitting the exam will pay for the cost of the call.

In order to prepare for the test they will have to study an "integration pack" of exam material, which will cost Û45. A video accompanying it, designed to give an insight into life and social mores in the Netherlands, includes images of topless women sunbathing and of a gay marriage.

Available in 13 languages, it describes the political institutions of the Netherlands and chronicles the country's history, highlighting important political and cultural figures from William of Orange to Anne Frank.

The Argentinian-born Princess Maxima, who married the Dutch crown prince, Willem-Alexander, in 2002, despite a row over her father's membership of Argentina's junta in the 1970s, is mentioned as an example of an immigrant.

Sample exam questions released range from: "Does a car have two or four wheels?" to "Is it OK to sunbathe topless on the North Sea beaches along the Dutch coast?"

Ms Verdonk said: "As integration into Dutch society is a long-term process it is important that newcomers, before arrival in the Netherlands, have a command of the Dutch language at a basic level and have developed an understanding of the society into which they are coming."

Claude Moraes, a British member of the European Parliament's Justice and Home Affairs Committee, argued that the measures are even tougher than those being introduced by Denmark, which has clamped down on immigration. He said: "The Dutch focus on the learning of language to the exclusion of all other tools in assimilating immigrants is wrong. The Dutch have got caught up in panic measures with party politicians trying to outbid each other to show how tough they are on immigration." Others argue that the scheme will simply encourage immigrants to enter the Netherlands illegally.

The government estimates that 14,000 people will apply to take the test each year.