The objective of this case study is to provide an analysis of refugee and migrant reception and integration policy in Amsterdam. The study highlights the design and implementation of integration actions within the Dutch multi-level governance framework for migrant integration, as well as interactions between the municipality and other public and non-state stakeholders. The study is based on answers to a questionnaire from the municipality of Amsterdam and its partners (January 2017), interviews conducted with different stakeholders (see Annex A for a complete list) involved in integration during an OECD mission (21-23 February 2017), and existing data and literature. A first version of this case study was finalised in June 2017 and updated in December 2017.

The city of Amsterdam has historically been a city of immigration and plays a proactive role in migrant integration. The conceptual approach to migration and integration followed similar trajectories at the national and city levels, while objectives have not always been aligned. The Netherlands is a pioneer among EU countries; Sweden, which started integration policies in the mid-1970s, is the only EU country that launched integration policies before the Netherlands. The Netherlands introduced a co-ordinated approach to migrant integration, at both the local and national level, in the early 1980s. During the 1960s and 1970s, newcomers were seen as “guest workers” in a multicultural society, who would eventually return to their countries of origin (Bruquetas-Callejo et al., 2007). During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the city of Amsterdam adopted a pluralist minorities policy, supporting the integration of minorities while maintaining their cultural identity and establishing dedicated dialogues with each community. Special attention was given to empowering ethnic communities in their bridging role for newcomers into a new society (Hoekstra, 2014; de Graauw and Vermeulen, 2016; Butter, 2009).

Since the 1990s, however, this model has been slowly abandoned, both at the national and more gradually at the local level, and more proactive measures were introduced to counter the disadvantaged socio-economic position of migrants that had become increasingly apparent. In the late 1990s, a Diversity Policy was established that involved a frame-shift from a ‘group-specific policy’ to ‘problem-oriented policies’ (Scholten, 2014[4]). Claiming that cultural and religious matter belonged to the private realm, cultural and religious groups were no longer object of specific measures in favour of a generic, individual oriented approach. In addition area-based integration polices were adopted at the local level in particular in the four largest Dutch cities (including Amsterdam), in order to deal with complex socio-economic problems like segregation, poor housing, poverty and unemployment all of these cities faced (Tersteeg, A.K., R. van Kempen & G.S. Bolt, 2013). Further the creation of a special minister for Integration and Large cities at the national level signifies a period of increased coordination in policy making and tendencies to decentralise the issue of integration in the 1990 (Scholten, 2014[4]). The concept of voluntary integration was first emphasised in 1994 in the Integration Policy, which insisted on the need for migrants to learn Dutch; it was institutionalised in 2007 by the introduction of the compulsory civic integration exam - Wet Inburgering Nieuwkomers - that newcomers have to pass within three years of receiving their legal residence permit in order to be naturalised. Once the exam is passed, and within five years of receiving their residence permit, they can be naturalised.

Overall, the city’s approach shifted from group-specific to problem-oriented policies (Maussen, 2009). In 2003, the city passed an act to end policies targeting groups on the basis of their nationality and ethnicity and pushed for mainstreaming migrant integration into all sectors of the city’s policies. Since then the municipality affirms its active role in designing the integration process operating in the interstices of universal sectoral policies, sometimes above and beyond its administrative responsibilities, to address the needs of its migrant population as one among other groups who live in the city.

In the wake of the increased arrival of refugees to the city in 2015, the municipality responded to the needs of newcomers with strong leadership and using all the margin for manoeuvre available within its flexible national-local co-ordination and funding mechanisms. This study thus devotes particular attention to the multi-level governance of Amsterdam’s response to integration and reception of newcomers, and in particular to the “Amsterdam Approach”. In collaboration with national authorities and civil society organisations, Amsterdam took the opportunity to integrate lessons learnt from the past in the formulation of this new approach. The “Amsterdam Approach Status holders1 specifically targets refugee reception and integration by creating opportunities for participation and inclusion right from the start, building bridges with the local population and other long-term migrants. With its tailored support to enter an education or labour path, the Amsterdam Approach Status holders represents an exception to the generic need-based approach to service provision for migrants that the municipality adopted since late 1990s. Yet, it also exemplifies a prototype allowing the city to experiment with more comprehensive service provision, which could be extended and adjusted to different groups based on their needs, once proven successful.

The study is structured as follows. Part One, offers a snapshot of Amsterdam’s migration today, including stock, historic migrant and refugee flows and nationalities, key laws, and the main issues emerging in the city related to migrant integration. Part Two presents the city’s institutions relevant for integration and responses to the reception and integration of migrants and refugees. These responses are presented according to the objectives identified in the OECD’s “Checklist for public action to migrant integration at the local level” (OECD, forthcoming[5]). The first block of the Checklist presents the multi-level governance setting that applies to Amsterdam’s integration policy; the institutional mapping helps clarifying the allocation of competences across levels of government. The second block describes how integration solutions are conceived in a continuum over time and aim at creating proximity and participation from all groups. The third block overviews operational, capacity building and monitoring tools used by the city for implementation. The last block introduces sectoral actions to facilitate integration through labour market, education, housing and social services.