Bringing Family to Wageningen
Coming to study in the Netherlands is daunting enough for many international students. Being without loved ones has its difficulties but those who hope to be accompanied by family members or partners may quickly realize that sorting out the paperwork and ensuring that the family member makes the most of his or her stay, can in itself be a gruelling test and a time-consuming project
Why Bring a Family Member?
International students who have considered bringing family members to the Netherlands for their study duration are no strangers to the arguments for and against such a big decision. Many in favour of being accompanied by a family member suggest that loneliness, homesickness and the lack of family support can really undermine the emotional and physical condition of students. Some find it hard to study and follow course work without having family nearby. Since studying in the Netherlands is often such a formative experience for many foreign students, the changes one goes through here can make relating to family members difficult upon return to the home country. As one of last year's MSc students, Enamul Haque, from Bangladesh, points out: I needed to bring my wife and three children to Wageningen during my stay, because I was finding it more and more difficult to share the same world view as my wife. Haque had previously spent an extended study period in the United States, and decided that his family should come to Wageningen so that they could all share in the experience
Many see being with their family as an essential part of basic personal relations. Being separated from one's children for such an extended period of time can also burn a hole in many parents' stomachs and pockets if telephone costs are also taken into account. Gabriela Zuñiga, who came to Wageningen in 1997 for a MAKS MSc, came only on the condition that she could bring her two sons with her from Costa Rica: Even though being a single mother on top of being a student was really demanding, I could never have come without my sons.
On the other hand, bringing partners can also distract students from demanding studies. If the family member experiences difficulties in adjusting to life in the Netherlands, the student runs the risk of losing time and energy worrying about his or her partner's isolation, boredom or depression. Ethiopian Tesfaye Messele, whose wife has come to Wageningen for the four years he will spend here conducting a PhD in Genetics, has found this the hardest part of his time here: Everyday I am aware of how boring it is for my wife to be here. It sometimes feels like a type of prison, because there are so many linguistic, cultural and political limitations to what she is able to do here. The student might also begin to feel responsible for his or her family member's emotional well-being, which may lead to greater tension and conflict in the relationship. In the case of children there are other important considerations such as the availability of daycare or school facilities, not to mention the double day involved in being both a student and full-time parent
In any event, if one decides to bring a family member for the duration of the study it is important to get the proper documentation in order before arriving in Wageningen. Despite the best intentions of the support institutions to provide information and assistance in the form of lists of documents and procedures, the procedure is neither straightforward nor obvious for an incoming student
Korean Crop Science PhD student, Jeong-Hyun Lee married his wife Hyun-Jeong Tag just five days before coming to Wageningen for his MSc. It was impossible to arrange the proper stamps and seals on the necessary documents before coming. In the end, Lee was forced to send documents back and forth between Korea and the Netherlands for legalization and verification. It was further complicated by the fact that the Dutch Embassy in Seoul demanded some of the same original documents which had already be submitted to Alien Police in Wageningen. The couple spent several months in the bureaucratic mill sorting out the confusions. This same embassy had also been informing Koreans wanting to study in the Netherlands that the minimum income required to support a partner here was two thousand American dollars per month. Lee: Other Koreans who have come here to study have heard the same story from the Embassy. That is not only a lot of money, but is it very different from the total that the Alien Police require.
Where do the rules and requirements come from?
Whether or not your family is allowed into the Netherlands to accompany you during your research or study period is the outcome of a long bureaucratic procedure. The broad rules and requirements are established through the Dutch parliament, and are then grouped into processes within the bureaucratic apparatus of the Ministry of Justice. It is the State Secretary of Justice who converts the wishes of parliament into policies to be executed by the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND). The IND is actually the heart of the bureaucracy through which all immigration, refugee, and residency (permanent or temporary) requests must pass. The IND distributes its policy details through the 23 police regions of the Netherlands via the regional police corps chiefs. However, it is really only a small group of administrators at the vreemdelingendienst, or the Alien Police of each region, who actually form the link between foreigners in each municipality (whether they be refugees, international students, employees, or their partners) and the bureaucratic apparatus charged with processing their documents
There is no special treatment or separate department that deals with international students and their families. Everyone is judged on the basis of what might seem to be bizarre rules and the documents required for the family reunification for students policy
Jumping through hoops
Mr. van Kleef of the foreign student department of the police in Wageningen discusses the procedures as they are detailed in the family reunification policy section of Dutch law: Students have it relatively easy, if you consider that the admissions policy for foreigners seeking refugee and immigration status gets adjusted as often as 2 or 3 times a week, depending on parliamentary debates and policy formulation. Van Kleef states that all Alien Police departments face the continuous challenge of having to deal with the official modifications to the procedures for these categories of people: It is really difficult to work with such changes on the ground. People get disappointed but we have to toe the line. Fortunately the family reunification policy for international students, has not changed significantly since 1994. Whether this is cause for celebration or not is another story. The nature of the legal status of the required documents has become stricter, and the origin of the procedure is very important
Since the 11th of December 1998, the MVV (Machtiging tot Voorlopig Verblijf or Temporary Residency Request) has become mandatory for almost every foreigner planning on staying longer than three months in the Netherlands. A MVV procedure can only be initiated from one's home country and may take several months of sending documents to and from the Netherlands. For students who wish to bring their families over for the duration of their study, van Kleef puts it this way: The most obvious way is to have the already accepted student bring along the necessary documents of his or her family members, and begin the procedure from within the Netherlands. It should take about two months to get the permission, if everything is in order.
Getting the right documents in the right order is the key. This may sound easy, but is not! Prior to leaving one's home country, a married student needs to get the most official version of his or her partner's birth certificate. If children are also coming, birth certificates for each child must be in order. All of the birth certificates and the couple's marriage certificate need to be legalised and verified. Verification and legalization of the original documents are best done while still at home. This involves visiting the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs for legalization stamps, then taking these documents to the nearest Dutch embassy or consulate to have the stamps from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs verified: a second round of stamping and seals on the same documents
While the Alien Police guidelines to the Dutch law on family reunification only indicate which documents are required, the reality is that the bureaucracy dealing with these papers must also have officially recognized translations of each document. It is essential that the documents be officially translated into one of the five accepted languages (Dutch, English, French, German, Spanish). An officially recognized translation must also have the right stamps and seals
Beyond the marriage and birth certificates, international students must also provide living condition guarantees. This means that they must have a minimum income recognized by the Alien Police as equal to or higher than minimum Dutch welfare standards. They must also be able to pay for health insurance and demonstrate that housing is not a problem. Unmarried students bringing their permanent partner require even more officialized and verified documents. An official unmarried declaration is required for both individuals, despite the fact that it may not exist in some countries. These must be officially legalised (stamped at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and likewise verified through the embassy
In the Netherlands bureaucracy rules! While it may not be obvious to the incoming foreign student, various institutions may require different documents. For this reason it is essential to check which institutions and bureaucratic steps require which documents and to take all of the instructions very seriously. The Municipality of Wageningen has made an effort to supply incoming international students with an info-page regarding Registration at the Department of Citizen Affairs. Ankie Lamberts of the Dean's Office: It is very difficult to explain all the requirements for every student - the rules are different for every country. This page has much improved the situation of ambiguity, but it remains a complex process. The municipality's info-page outlines what the Student must bring in order to become registered. While the document does not explicitly say so, this step in the bureaucracy is not directly related to residency but only to registration in the municipality. An unmarried student with a permanent partner does not require proof of unmarried status for registering at the municipality but such a document is essential for the Alien Police if that partner is going to accompany the international student