Close to 1.2 million Dutch citizens (almost 7% of the total population!) have accepted the challenge to live abroad, with all the pros and cons of living in other states and cultures worldwide.
This is nothing new; Dutch people are truly well travelled and open to the world – contact with other cultures is an inherent part of their heritage, and they speak English better than pretty much anyone else.
There is one thing, however, that is blocking Dutch expats once they are abroad:
the Dutch state
It appears that for as long as you are settled in the Low Lands, you can enjoy all of the perks and support that the state offers to citizens. However, from the moment you move abroad, no matter which country (you thought the EU would count for something, right? Wrong!) even if you are still working for the Dutch state, the Kingdom of the Netherlands will gladly abandon you. (Except for the tax office, which always somehow finds its way to you – you know the drill.)
How does it (not) work?
Once you, as a Dutch citizen, have chosen to live somewhere else, you will need to deregister from the municipality you lived in last. Just as when you moved from your parents’ city to your study city within the Netherlands, it makes sense because;
a) you like to follow rules and that’s the rule
b) you find it stupid to pay taxes for something you don’t get, or
c) both of the above.
The difference with becoming a Dutch expat is that this time you will be a Dutch passport holder with no home in your homeland – ah, the irony!
After the ceremonious ritual of de-registering, you will be surprised to find out how much an address really matters. You will immediately lose full voting rights and will only be allowed to vote for Lower Chamber of Parliament and European elections (because despite how the Dutch state treats you, you are still a European citizen!)
Theoretically, (and because of DigID), a Dutch expat should be able to get everything they need in a blink of an eye while abroad, with the help of the diplomatic missions. These are in fact very well represented – more than 150 embassies worldwide for 17 million people.
In practice though, this is only possible if you were lucky enough to go to a country with an actual functioning embassy – not just an ambassador and one(!) administrative person, who very often do NOT speak Dutch. Your request will be processed, but only if it is something straightforward, like document renewal. When it comes to more sophisticated requests such as an eligibility to marry document, (a statement proving you are not married in the Netherlands), then you may be told to go back to the Netherlands to get it.
Even more terrifying, living abroad poses a real risk of actually losing your citizenship altogether. But how, you ask, is this possible?
Well, here’s how. A hypothetical Hans lived for over 10 years in Nicaragua (so outside of the Netherlands, its overseas territories and the EU) as a professor at a local university. Hans is married to a hypothetical Aminta, and also took a second, Nicaraguan citizenship (for example, due to better taxation). Hypothetical Hans’ passport expired some time ago, but he didn’t notice and didn’t apply for reissue by 31 March 2013. Little did he know that because of his negligence, on 1 April 2013, he lost his right to Dutch citizenship, because since then the Transition Act was terminated.
This could have been avoided if the Dutch state, through its embassies, informed Dutch expats properly. It is not hard to imagine that the message won’t reach everyone though, especially if it is only put out on a website (!)
Hans is hypothetical, yet his plight has been a real issue for some people. as well as the humiliation of having to reapply for citizenship in the country they were born in.
One very real case of the state failing to protect the rights of its own citizens, just because they live abroad, happened only recently. ABN Amro has announced its decision to close the accounts of 15,000 of its customers simply because they live outside of the EU. While this may be acceptable for Dutch expats who are working wherever they settled, and thus have a local account, it is a dead end for pensioners who decided to spend their golden years outside Europe – access to their own money will be denied.
A value slipping out
When it comes to human value things are no different. For as much as expressive patriotism is not among the core characteristics of the Dutch people, they stay in touch with their culture and country and like to promote it abroad.
Many expats open Dutch food shops and factories abroad, share valuable expertise with local businesses or governments, and engage people into celebrating Sinterklaas and King’s Day. It is quite obvious that the Dutch expats bring a lot of value to their own country with their experiences – well travelled, with different perspectives and new ideas, they are natural ambassadors of the Netherlands.
Their children, very often of mixed origin – in the words of comedian Trevor Noah, “not a half caste, but twice as nice” – speak several languages and have seen much at a very young age. How is that for an economic asset?
Instead of making the most of this natural advantage by supporting Dutch companies abroad, and promoting Dutch culture (like the French do with Institut Français, or the British with The British Council), the Netherlands remains silent. They are probably forgetting that, by its own law, kids of dual nationality in the Netherlands are forced to choose one or the other when they turn 18. One can only wonder why would they choose Dutch citizenship if this country does very little to make them or their parents feel welcome.
The state is also silent when it comes to representation of the Dutch abroad. There are close to 1.2 million Dutch expats (a population the size of The Hague and Rotterdam combined). It is an impressive number of people who should have their voices heard and feel welcome in their own country. “Everyone is equal” is a founding principle of the modern Netherlands, and what’s more, it is a constitutional right. It is very disappointing when it doesn’t happen in practice.
Instead of crying over spilled milk, some of those most affected rolled up their sleeves for action with a small but effective start. Eelco Keij and the Nederlanders Buiten Nederland organisation are working to ease all obstacles Dutchies abroad face from their own country, In the long run, they’re planning to lobby for governmental representation of the diaspora in a similar way to Switzerland, France and Portugal.
It goes without saying that any further changes to Dutch citizenship should be done moderately, and take into account the ever-changing pressures of today’s world. Matters of nationality is no joke, and should not be taken lightly. There is certainly no universal formula that works for everybody, but pretending that the Dutch diaspora is less important – or worse, that it does not exist at all – is just as bad, and can alienate people just because of a choice they are entitled to as citizens of a free, European country.