Career: Attorney | Freshfields Bruckhaus Derringer LLP | Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Immigration in the Netherlands: What Can We Learn from the United States?
“This land is not good for you, it shows the worst of mankind,” said Mehmet on the phone to his family back in Morocco. As reported in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, Mehmet is one of the many Moroccan Muslim immigrants in the Netherlands who have a difficult time understanding the lifestyle and standards of the Dutch and is unwilling to adapt, and this is starting to bother more and more of the Dutch. Many of them see immigration as one of the most important topics in today’s elections; unfortunately, many also believe that radical discriminatory steps need to be taken to address immigration problems.
These problems are particularly pronounced in Holland in the case of the Moroccan Muslim immigrants. Consider a few statistics: 55 percent of the Moroccan male immigrants between 18 and 24 in larger cities have a criminal record; only 60 percent of Moroccan males between 25 and 45 are employed, compared to 86 percent of the Dutch natives.
These facts are shocking, but they don’t tell us much about underlying causes such as employment patterns. The fact is that many young Moroccan male immigrants are unemployed at an age when most people work (with a few justifiable exceptions, to be sure). So the question is: Why are these people not working?
The biggest reason is precisely the success of our welfare state. As in a typical welfare state, the Dutch government is present in many ways to provide for the basic needs of its citizens. This includes basic health care and insurance, but also extends to income.
In Holland if you can’t find work or are not able to work, you can apply for a state income.
Of course this income is not very large, but it is enough to live on.
This is indeed a beautiful feature of our welfare state and can be the ultimate safety net for people in need. But it can be misused as well.
Some people can work but are simply not willing to do so, and this does not promote the perseverance and courage sometimes required to find work or foster entrepreneurship. These downsides to the system have become particularly pronounced among immigrants.
Another problem is that like Mehmet, many Moroccan immigrants do not have any strong affection or loyalty for the Netherlands, probably because the cultural differences between them and the native Dutch population are very big. Most of these immigrants came from a region of Morocco that is very conservative. The Netherlands, on the other hand, is a very liberal society, indeed in many respects more so than the United States. What is particularly troubling is that third-generation immigrants who are raised in the Netherlands and speak fluent Dutch are often as conservative, or even more so, than newer immigrants. The conflicting moral standards often give rise to heated discussion, or even worse, violence, between Dutch natives and Moroccan immigrants.
What can the Dutch learn in this regard from America, considered to be one of today’s most successful immigration societies? The most important lesson concerns how the United States manages to promote entrepreneurship and other opportunities. According to The Economist, the United States created 60 million new jobs while losing 45 million old ones between 1987 and 2002. During the same period Europe created 15 million new jobs and lost 12 million. In short, America has a far more dynamic economy and provides opportunity for people. These opportunities are not equally available to all, but they are opportunities nonetheless. As an immigrant in the United States you have to work. Otherwise you won’t have an income because there is not the kind of safety net found in Europe. To be sure, the American system has its downsides. I don’t want to underestimate them, but the fact remains that America has attracted immigrants and has been successful in providing work for them.
I believe that work is one of the best ways to help people integrate into a society. If you don’t speak the language or don’t get used to the habits of a society, you cannot work. America is also successful in promoting entrepreneurship. Legal and financial restrictions on establishing your own business are relatively minor when compared with Europe.
Another important lesson we can learn from Americans concerns their open-mindedness toward different cultures. In the Netherlands and Europe in general, people often say that Americans are individualistic and that their friendship is only superficial. I have found this to be untrue. Americans are individualistic (but then so are we Dutch), but Americans are also very open-minded when it comes to exploring and being interested in different cultures. They realize that they are in a melting pot and that everybody is working in their country to get the best out of its life. That’s what unites.