First results of the Civic Integration Act 2013
One of the main principles of the Civic Integration Act 2013 is that the person integrating into Dutch society is personally responsible for the integration path. The Minister of Social Affairs and Employment (SZW), moreover, hopes the act will produce a structural saving of €333 million as from 2014. We present the first results of this act in our report, Civic Integration.
We came to the following conclusions from our audit of the first results of the Civic Integration Act 2013:
- The saving targeted for the Civic Integration Act was set without first calculating the act’s potential consequences in practice. There is little information in the budget or the annual report regarding the cost of loans, repayments and debt cancellation.
- The personal responsibility underlying the integration policy was not properly thought out in advance and does not work adequately in practice. Most of the people integrating need support at the start of the integration path. The less information the participants receive, the more support they need.
- Lack of transparency about the courses available on the market prevents participants from selecting the most appropriate integration path. The quality of the integration courses is not assessed.
- Under the Civic Integration Act 2013, fewer people pass the integration exam within the statutory term than under the Civic Integration Act 2007. It is not clear whether or not sanctions are effective. It is almost impossible in practice to enforce the legal sanction of withdrawing the right to residency.
- The Civic Integration Act 2013 provides few incentives for dual integration paths and there are obstacles to their use. The current policy does not provide sufficient encouragement for participants to take exams at the highest feasible level. This may reduce the likelihood of participation in society.
- To evaluate the policy impact effectively, the minister should have an understanding of the participants’ educational backgrounds, how they prepare for their exams and the extent to which they participate in society. Some migrants, moreover, have not yet fulfilled the obligations resting on them under the previous system.
On 11 October and 28 November 2016, the Minister of SZW informed the House of Representatives of changes in the civic integration policy. The minister’s findings and the policy changes he announced agree with our audit conclusions. Nevertheless, we believe there is still room for improvement. We accordingly make the following recommendations to the minister:
- Make information on loans, debt cancellation and repayments a structural feature of the budget and annual report. This will provide more insight into the expenditure on integration policy.
- Provide municipalities with accessible information on individual participants, for example on their integration activities (courses taken, exams sat, etc.). Only then will municipalities be able to tailor their advice so that participants can start an integration path sooner.
- Ensure the relationship between the quality, price and duration of different paths and different providers is transparent to the participants and explain whether the price and duration of a path is in keeping with its quality.
- Remove obstacles to dual paths so that participants can receive student loans during secondary vocational education at level 2 or higher in order to pay for the additional language lessons they need, and recognise that secondary vocational education at level 2 or higher is a valid reason to extend the integration term.
- Record information on the participants’ educational background and preparation for exams. Complement this information with information on the degree of participation of those who pass the exams (under both the current and the previous system).
Finally, the policy implementers should be given the time and tranquillity they need to implement the civic integration policy effectively and efficiently.
In his response to our draft report, the Minister of SZW referred to the improvement measures announced at the end of 2016. In his opinion, they largely agree with our conclusions. The minister also updated the pass rates for the entire cohort of the 2013 participants as at 1 January 2017. The minister further gave the following undertakings:
- The minister will act on our recommendation to inform parliament about loans, debt cancellation and repayments. He will start doing so in the 2018 budget.
- The minister will determine what additional support certain target groups need to complete their integration paths. He will report on the conclusions drawn from three ongoing paths to parliament and discuss them with the authorities and organisations concerned. He did not specifically refer, however, to the provision of accessible information to municipalities on individual participants.
- The minister will adopt part of our recommendation to provide more information on the quality, price and duration of integration paths. Blik op Werk, an independent quality and knowledge institute, is preparing guidelines that will provide more information on the prices and class sizes of different course providers. The 2017 manual also states that certified providers should indicate on their own page on Blik op Werk’s website what distinguishes them from other providers of language courses. The minister will also step up the supervision of the quality of integration courses.
- The minister agrees with our recommendation to remove obstacles to dual paths. He will make it possible to use loans for both an integration path and a path to learn Dutch as a second language. He will also amend the Civic Integration Order so that a course is recognised as a valid reason to extend the integration term.
- The minister acknowledges the importance of having more insight into the educational background of participants. He will evaluate the situation and consider the opportunities available to record this information in the light of privacy issues and cost. However, he did not refer to the necessary information on how participants prepare for their exams and their participation in society.