The Randstad is considered synonymous with diversity by Dutch standards. But the northern provinces are becoming more international every year: since 2014, there have been more non-Dutch people moving to all three of the northern provinces of Drenthe, Friesland and Groningen than Dutch people.
In that year, there were twice as many in Drenthe, three times as many in Friesland, and five times as many in Groningen. Projections up to 2025 expect the number of foreigners in Groningen to grow by up to 8 percent, and it is more than simply students changing the face of the northern provinces.
|Out of a total population of 202,906 people in 2017, there were 28,362 first generation immigrants living in the city of Groningen – 14 percent of all residents. Including second generation immigrants – people born in the Netherlands with at least one foreign-born parent – nearly one-fourth of the population of the city comes from a migrant background.|
As the biggest city in the region, it makes sense that Groningen has the most residents with a migrant background. But cities in Friesland and Drenthe also have sizeable foreign populations: in 2017, there were 9,822 first generation immigrants living in Leeuwarden and 4,772 in Assen.
However, the international population in the north is not limited to the metropolitan centres. In 2017, the province of Groningen had 87,671 residents who were either born abroad or have at least one foreign-born parent. In Friesland, there are 61,466 first and second generation immigrants, and Drenthe has 50,053 international residents.
|It cannot be denied that the academic institutions in the region – the University of Groningen, the Hanze University of Applied Sciences, and NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences – are an important reason that many young people come to the north, be it as students or instructors. One-third of the academic staff at the RUG have an international background, and in the 2016/2017 academic year, the city of Groningen had roughly 7,000 international students. Prior to a merger with NHL, Stenden hosted 2,100 international students at its locations across in Friesland, Groningen and Drenthe that same year.|
The stereotype that international students are just passing through is not only unfair, but also totally inaccurate nowadays. A decade ago, there were far fewer foreign students in the north, and the majority of those who were here came as exchange students. For example, in 2004, there were 400 exchange students at the RUG and 116 regular degree students.
By 2015, the number of exchange students had more than doubled to 893, but there were more than 4,000 foreign-born students enrolled in degree programmes. That means that there are five times more students who come to the RUG for the entirety of their bachelor, master or doctoral degree programme these days than those who stay for a few months on Erasmus exchange.
In addition to education, job opportunities are one of the main reasons that people everywhere choose to move, Dutch or otherwise. As of 2016, there were approximately 80,000 first or second generation immigrants working in the three northern provinces, 29,000 of which are in positions requiring university education. There were approximately 10,000 knowledge migrants and 5,000 self-employed foreign-born people working in the northern regions last year.
In addition to “expat” and “international”, another term that regularly gets thrown around when describing foreign-born people in the Netherlands is “allochtoon”. Since the 1980s, immigrants and their children living in the Netherlands were classified under this broad and loaded word. Coined by Hilda Verwey Jonker, a Dutch sociologist, in the ‘70s, it was intended as a neutral way to describe immigrants. However, the term fails to distinguish between first generation immigrants and their offspring, effectively stigmatising every foreign-born person and their descendants as non-Dutch and implying an inability to be considered a part of Dutch society.
As such, “allochtoon” has fallen out of favour at the Dutch Bureau of Statistics in recent years because it is fairly limiting, vague and has taken on a negative connotation in political discourse – “migrant background” is the preferred term circa 2018. But even that term has subtle but clear connotations: the popular assumption within Dutch society is that a migrant is either a migrant labourer who moved to the Netherlands starting in the 1950s – primarily from Turkey and Morocco – or their descendants, or someone who moved here from the former Dutch colonies, particularly Suriname and Indonesia.
|Even though the north may be less exclusively Dutch by the day, ethnic and cultural diversity are another story. In all three of the northern provinces, more than half of the immigrants hail from Europe (primarily Germany), North America or Oceania (classified imprecisely as “western”), and less than half come from Asia, Africa or South America (“non-western”). In 2016, in the province of Groningen, there were 44,996 foreign-born people from so-called “western” countries (40,588 people with a non-western background); in Friesland, there were 32,225 immigrants with a western background (26,859 from Asia, Africa or South America); in Drenthe, there were 27,771 western-based immigrants (18,875 non-western immigrants).|