Friday 14 May 2021

Handling of immigration cases has parallels with child benefit scandal, say lawyers

A gavel in a courtroom.

Photo: Depositphotos

The treatment of migrants who fall foul of the strict and complex rules allowing them to stay in the Netherlands has echoes of the child benefits scandal, a group of legal experts has said.

Immigration officials and judges are too quick to assume fraud by immigrants and asylum seekers, while the rules give them little scope to consider the human impact of their decisions, according to a report published by the Centre for Migration Law at Radboud Universiteit in Nijmegen.

‘From their arrival in the Netherlands until their naturalisation, the government views migrants with suspicion and there are only limited judicial checks on the suspicious government,’ said the report. ‘In cases involving foreign nationals this leads to injustices that are insufficiently visible.’

The report was compiled in association with lawyers who represent migrants in asylum and naturalisation cases, some of whom fall foul of the rules after years of living and working legally in the Netherlands.

A Filipino woman had her residency permit and those of her two daughters withdrawn after she left her Dutch partner, who had sexually abused one of the two girls. The rules say domestic violence is only a legitimate reason to claim residency if the applicant herself has been abused.

In another case, a Russian man lost his residency rights temporarily when his employer gave him shares in his company as a retirement present. The rules do not allow knowledge migrants to have a stake of more than 25% in the company that they work for.

When the employee realised this he disposed of the holding, but because he was briefly ineligible for residency he now has to wait another five years before he can apply for nationality.

‘Escape route’

‘The rules on eligibility for residential status are extremely strict, as we all want them to be,’ lawyer Barbara Wegelin told NRC. ‘That doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem, as long as there is an escape route for cases that fall just outside the rules but where deportation would be very unjust and the consequences severe.’

Losing residency status can have serious financial consequences for migrants’ families because they are no longer entitled to benefits such as child support. The children’s ombudsman has previously highlighted this issue, which has led some dual-national families to break up so that the Dutch partner does not lose their right to benefits.

The report, ‘Unprecedented injustice in aliens law’, together with a ‘black book’ of sample cases, is being presented to four MPs who previously practised as lawyers and Council of State member Bart Jan van Ettekoven.

Van Ettekoven has said the administrative court intends to review previous migration cases and judgments. ‘We want to see if there have been disproportional consequences for citizens in other areas, even where the law demands that judges take a strict line,’ he said.

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