Not all refugees will be able to work right away. Most of them will have to study first. For adolescent and adult refugees vocational or higher education is the most logical choice. In that way they can obtain a diploma that will help them with their entrance in the labour market. This is mostly applicable to secondary vocational education (MBO).
In our Information Blog, under ‘Education and Study’ you will find information about the possibilities for asylum seekers and refugees to follow a vocational or higher education. Possibilities for internships, international transition classes (ISK) and the right to student finance will be treated as well. Read for instance the frequently asked questions, or information on law and regulations, support opportunities and recent policy initiatives.
Refugees often do not have (recognised) diplomas or a completed education. Education is important in order to build a successful life and to find a job. To which extent are refugees and asylum seekers allowed to follow an education? Here you will find the answers to frequently asked questions regarding refugees and education.
Are refugees allowed to study in the Netherlands?
Yes, refugees with a residence permit are allowed to study in the Netherlands. In this regard they have the same rights and duties as the Dutch.
To study in the Netherlands, the refugee’s residence in the Netherlands has to be lawful. This is always the case for refugees with a residence permit.
Asylum seekers (without a residence permit) of whom the asylum procedure is still pending, are residing lawfully in the Netherlands as well. They are thus allowed to study in the Netherlands too. However, they do need a declaration of the IND that their residence in the Netherlands is lawful..
Are refugees allowed to intern?
Refugees with a residence permit are always allowed to intern or to do a work experience placement. In this regard they have the same rights and duties as the Dutch. Asylum seekers (without a residence permit) are only allowed to intern if their asylum application has been pending for more than 6 months.
What level of Dutch does a refugee have to acquire to follow vocational education (MBO)?
Vocational education in the Netherlands is mostly given in Dutch. A refugee thus needs a certain level of Dutch in order to follow the education.
Educational institutions decide themselves whether the language level of a refugee is sufficient. They estimate whether the student can learn the Dutch language fast enough to follow the education ánd to complete the education successfully.
Is the language level insufficient? If the language level of a refugee is insufficient to successfully follow vocational education, they must ensure they master the language sufficiently. In order to do so they can take a language course at a private provider of language courses or sometimes at the institution of vocational education itself. Municipalities can invest in language courses as well, with funds from the budget for education for instance. The language courses offered by the municipality are only available for refugees who have passed their civic integration examination.
Do refugees have a right to student finances?
Refugees with a (temporary) residence permit who are studying in the Netherlands have the right to student finance and the student travel product under the same conditions as Dutch students. Asylum seekers (without a residence permit) do not have a right to student finance or the student travel product.
Student refugees with a residence permit can apply for student finance for a full-time vocational, higher or university education.
Mbo (vocational education)
Mbo students can apply for student finance from the age of 18 until the age of 29. Mbo level 3 or 4 students receive the student finance – with the exception of student loans – as a performance grant: this is a gift, unless the education is not completed within 10 years. In case the education is not completed within 10 years, the students has to repay the student finance. Mbo level 1 or 2 students receive the student finance – with the exception of student loans – as a gift.
Higher education (University of Applied Sciences – hbo and University – wo)
Higher education students can apply for student finance if under 30 years old. Student finance is a loan. The loan has to be repaid after completing the education. Only the supplementary grant and the student travel product are given as a performance grant: this is a gift, unless the student does not complete the education within 10 years. Did the student not get a diploma within 10 years, then it has to repay these products.
Student travel product
Students can receive a student travel product as a part of their student finance. This means that a student can use public transport for free during the week or during the weekend. If a student wants to use public transport for free, they can choose between the week period or weekend period themselves. The student travel product is available for studying refugees as well. The student travel product is a gift, unless the student does not complete its education within 10 years. If so, the student travel product has to be repaid.
More on student finance for mbo students.
More on student finance for higher education students.
Is an institute of vocational education (mbo) allowed to enrol asylum seekers or refugees for an education?
Minor asylum seekers and refugees may always be enrolled at a school or educational institute. For minors the right to education is not dependent on their residence status. Adults can follow vocational education if their residence in the Netherlands is lawful.
Minors: right to education at all times
To asylum seekers and refugees under 18 years the right to education and compulsory education and qualification is applicable. This is not dependent on their residence status. Minors may thus always be enrolled for a school or educational institute, as described in the Compulsory Education Act 1969.
Adults: only in case of lawful residence
Adults can follow vocational education in the Netherlands if they comply to the legal requirements regarding registration described in the Adult and Vocational Education Act (WEB). A refugee of 18 years old and above can enrol for vocational education as described in WEB if their residence in the Netherlands is lawful according to article 8 of the Aliens Act 2000 (Vw 2000).
What is lawful residence?
Residence is lawful for instance when a refugee has a residence permit or when they have applied for asylum and are waiting for the result. The asylum seeker or refugee needs to be able to show a valid residence permit or a declaration of lawful residence of the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) if requested at all times.
Lawful residence expired
An adult refugee who no longer resides lawfully according to article 8 of Vw 2000, can only continue their education at the educational institute where they enrolled during their lawful residence and if they follow the prevailing rules. These rules are based on prevailing international law. Educational institutes are not allowed to enrol such a refugee or asylum seeker as a new student.
Do refugees have to take a Dutch language exam in order to get a degree in vocational education?
Yes, everyone who follows vocational education and wants to get a degree has to comply to the prevailing exam requirements. This applies to refugees as well. One of these requirements is for the student to pass the generic Dutch language exam.
The Dutch language exam level depends on the type of vocational education:
Mbo-4 students take the 3F Dutch language exam.
Mbo-2 and -3 students take the 2F Dutch language exam.
Sources and more information: