Inburgering. What on Earth..?
Trying to find a clear English language explanation about the Inburgering Cursus (integration course) is as rare as hen’s teeth. Although it’s a requirement for so many of us, the relevant government departments seem to expect that we are already integrated enough to understand all of the (Dutch) information. We often find ourselves in a Catch-22 situation, needing to learn the language, but are expected to understand the language to learn the language…
Common questions are: What is it? Who has to do it? Do I? What do I have to do? How much does it cost? What is the level I need to reach? What if I’m from an EU country, or have lived here for many years and already speak Dutch? What happens afterwards?
We are going to do our best to address these commonly asked questions with this quick guide to Inburgering in Almere.
What is Inburgering?
In short, inburgering translates to integration and under many circumstances those of us who move to the Netherlands are required to follow a course/take exam to prove that we have fulfilled this obligation. Aside from this being an obligation, learning the language and about the Netherlands and society vastly improves the quality of life of an international living here, it really does. Without learning the language, even to a basic level, it is very easy to find yourself living on the fringes of society, not really participating in it.
Who must integrate?
Perhaps it’s easier to list the people who don’t have to integrate than those who are obliged. If you are an EU citizen (or from Turkey, where you are exempt under EU agreements), or are a highly skilled migrant, you are not obliged to learn the language or integrate. Also, if you are the spouse of a highly skilled, non-EU migrant you are also exempt.
However, even if you are exempt from the inburgering process, the moment you wish to become either a permanent resident or a Dutch citizen, you will need to prove that you have enough knowledge of the language and society by satisfying one (or more) of the following criteria.
What do I have to do?
You have several options to satisfy the inburgering requirement, as follows:
The Inburgering Examen (the integration exams)
You learn Dutch to A2 level (more about the levels later) and learn about how Dutch society functions. You can do this independently, or you can follow a course. The Gemeente in Almere will offer you several options for courses, including both the ROC Flevoland and Ttif Company (both sites ironically in Dutch). Once you are at a level where you are confident that you can take the exams, you enrol in the Centrale Examen (central exams), where you undertake three electronic exams, the Kennis Nederlandse Samenleving (knowledge of Dutch Society), the Elektronisch Praktijkexamen (electronic practical exam) and the Toets Gesproken Nederlands (spoken Dutch test).
In partnership with the above exams, you will also need to complete one of the available practical exams. One is the Bewijzen Verzamelen (assemble a portfolio), where you collect proof of yourself enacting various scenarios in Dutch and then attend an interview to discuss what you have put together (in simple Dutch). Check here for an example portfolio. The second option is Praktijksituaties Nadoen (role play assessments). You attend an interview and enact four different scenarios in Dutch with your examiner. Or, you can also do a combination of both – ten items in your portfolio and two assessments.
These exams are most often recommended for those of you who don’t already speak the language fluently. The focus is on understanding simple Dutch and on society, not on grammar or professional communication.
Staatsexamen I en II (known as NT2 exams)
This is a much more intense level. If you pass the level one exams, you can study at a vocational level (ROC for example), and once you pass the level two exams, you are officially at a level high enough to enter Dutch (spoken and written) university courses.
The exams are obviously much harder and the focus is strongly on language and grammar (within a societal context) and it is not necessary to first take level one before level two – they are independent study streams. A good deal of information regarding the two courses can be found here (pdf).
The Gemeente Almere will also sponsor you to undertake one of these courses if you so choose and there are several recommended schools in Almere where you can follow the courses; ROC Flevoland, Ttif Company and Suitcase to name just three.
Het Diploma Beroepsonderwijs
Essentially this is vocational training (in Dutch). You will also receive extra language lessons as part of the training, and the diploma at the end will satisfy your inburgering requirements. These courses are at MBO (trade/vocational training) level. These courses are usually taken at the ROC.
De Korte Vrijstellingtoets (short exemption exam)
This is an exam that is aimed at residents who have been living in the Netherlands for some years and who would consider themselves integrated and fluent in the language. It is a 45 minute exam that is at a higher language level than the Inburgering Examen (B1) and you will need to answer specific questions about how certain aspects of Dutch society functions. Often the questions will focus on topics such as; what to do when a child is born, how to deal with the consultatiebureau (children’s clinic), what is the appropriate way to interact with your neighbours, how to set up a business, dealing with the belastingdienst (tax office) etc.
You have only one shot at this exam; if you fail you will be expected to take one of the above exams for your proof of integration. Also note that the Gemeente does not sponsor this, so the cost (currently EUR81.00) is to be met yourself. Also note that more often than not, the Gemeente will not tell you about this option unless they consider you to be at a sufficient language level, but everybody is eligible to take the test. If you are running short on time or have no desire to take on the courses or other exams, perhaps this is the option for you. You can find information about the experiences of others with this exam all over the place, for example here, here or here. When studying for this exam, Google is your friend.
What does it cost?
It is very difficult to pin down exactly how much inburgering costs across the board, but we can provide a few general notes.
In Almere the Gemeente will sponsor the lion’s share of the courses you follow, and you are only expected to pay the first EUR270.00. If you opt out of following the city sponsored course, they may offer you a personal budget, where you research a course you want to follow and if approved, the Gemeente will pay, up to the cost of EUR6000.00. It is well worth remembering however, if you are sponsored to undertake independent study and do not pass the exams within the time frame you agree with the Gemeente (eighteen months usually), they can insist you repay the cost of the course.
Edit: The Gemeente in Almere no longer pays for your course up front unless you receive social benefits (uitkering) or are searching for work. You can however, apply for a 70% rebate if you take one of the Gemeente’s recommended courses upon your graduation.
Remember, this information is only for Almere. In many other cities you must cover the cost of inburgering yourself, and as of 2014 the federal government will phase out all finance for inburgering, meaning that although it will remain compulsory for many immigrants, they will be expected to cover the full cost themselves.
What is the language level that I need to reach?
To meet the language requirement to apply for permanent residency or citizenship, you are expected to reach A2 level. For those of us who arrived prior to 2007 and have no intention of ever applying for either only need reach A1 level. If you pass the staatsexamen II course, you will be at B1 level. But, the question remains, what do these levels mean? The coding (A1, A2, B1 etc) levels are decided at a European level and relate to general language proficiency:
A1 – Beginner level (basic knowledge, use of simple phrases)
A2 – Pre-intermediate level (conversational level when discussing familiar topics)
B1 – Intermediate level (can deal with most situations and can describe experiences and events etc and explain oneself)
B2 – Upper intermediate (can understand complex and technical language and can interact on a level that is easy for native speakers to follow)
C1 – Advanced (can communicate spontaneously and with ease on both a social and professional level and is able to produce detailed information on complex topics)
C2 – Proficient (understands virtually everything spoken and written in the language, effectively immersed)
When you look at the various language classifications and realise that the level to reach to obtain citizenship/permanent residency is not particularly high, you may surprise yourself with your level of understanding.
What if I’m from an EU country or I’ve lived here for many years?
If you come from an EU country, you do not have to take any of the exams under the freedom of movement agreement. However, as noted above, if you wish to become a Dutch citizen, you will need to then do one of the exams. Not that becoming a citizen is necessary as an EU national anyway. In the past there was funding where EU citizens could follow a course and have it paid in full by the Almere Gemeente. This funding has been phased out in 2011, but if you’re willing to put up a big enough fight, you might be able to convince them…
If you have lived here for many years as an immigrant, but have never applied for permanent residency/citizenship, it is very likely that you have been flying under the Gemeente’s radar, so to speak. Meaning that when the time comes to renew your verblijfsvergunning (residence permit), you may be flagged and contacted to prove that you’re integrated, meaning that if you have never followed a course you might be asked to take one of the exams. If you never intend to apply for citizenship or permanent residency and moved here prior to 2007, you only need to prove A1 level proficiency. However, you may find it easier to take the Korte Vrijstellingtoets and be done with it.
What happens afterwards?
You are officially geslaagd (graduated). Depending on how long you have lived in the Netherlands you may be eligible to apply for citizenship or permanent residency (after three years if you are a spouse or partner of a Dutch national or five years if you are a skilled migrant or spouse/partner of a skilled migrant). Often the case is that you will complete the exams well before you are eligible to apply, so instead of a material reward you instead gain a better quality of life as your ability to interact in society is vastly improved.
A final question remains: How can I get started? The best place to start if you want to or know that you will eventually be required to take one of the exams is to get in touch with the Almere Gemeente. You can check their website Inburgering in Almere, drop into the Sociale Zaken (social affairs department) between 09.00 and 12.00 or make an appointment for between 09.00 and 16.00 weekdays. To make an appointment you can call 14 036. Do not forget to take your verblijfsvergunning (as it doubles as ID) and your BSN when you go.
Some links you may find useful (in Dutch):
Blog about inburgering in Almere
Practice exams you can take:
Have you followed an inburgering cursus or taken one of the exams? What tips can you offer others who will take the course in the future?
Needing to take the exams, but are unsure of the process? Ask away, we are more than happy to offer advice from our own, firsthand experience with the courses and exams.
Here are some more links you might find handy too: