Undocumented workers can now study at VU after all

Young people without a residence permit who are rooted in the Netherlands and have a Dutch high school diploma can recently study at the VU for the normal tuition of two thousand euros.

Ten thousand euros tuition per year. That is what undocumented people had to pay to study until recently. Until the age of eighteen, these young people are entitled to free education, so they often roll through high school without any problems, but when they reach adult age, it stops. Ten thousand euros in tuition fees most undocumented migrants cannot afford, and on top of that there are demands from the IND about a guarantor and a study visa that they have to pick up in their country of origin. Studying thus became practically unattainable for undocumented migrants, even if they had a vwo diploma and had lived in the Netherlands all their lives.

Just as Amsterdam

Studying increases the likelihood of getting a good job for this group of young people and thus the chance of obtaining legal residency status. That it fits within VU’s core values to further help these marginalized youth, many people at VU immediately agreed, says sociologist Tara Rose Fiorito, who advocates for the undocumented. But turning the system around was tough and took time. Fiorito spent two years bombarding all kinds of people at VU with emails, notes and proposals: “Everyone thought it was a good initiative, but in the meantime, nothing really happened.”

That a covenant was finally signed this spring by the municipality and Amsterdam’s higher education institutions (VU, UvA, InHolland and the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten) is due in part to Fiorito’s perseverance and to the guts of Marjolijn Kaak, director of student affairs at the HvA.

Kaak decided not to treat an Amsterdam student of Brazilian descent differently from other Dutch citizens and to charge her regular tuition. This set a first example. ‘To me, these are children who are just as Amsterdam-like as my own children,’ Kaak says in this article.

Actual costs

About a year ago, Fiorito sat with Kaak, Ruben Boers of The Hague University of Applied Sciences and Alderman Rutger Groot Wassink at a debate on undocumented migrants at Pakhuis de Zwijger. “Groot Wassink supported our initiative. We then formed an Amsterdam working group and out of that came the covenant that was signed by the municipality and the Amsterdam higher education institutions last spring,” says Fiorito.


The intentions are thus set: undocumented migrants with a Dutch high school diploma in their pocket are welcome at Amsterdam’s higher education institutions at ordinary tuition fees. What is not yet clear is how the institutions will pay the difference between the actual cost of a student (about ten thousand euros per year) and the tuition fee of two thousand euros. For Dutch students, the state pays those costs. The VU is investigating exactly what the tuition amount should be for this group and how many students it can admit per year. The procedure for allowing undocumented students to study is customized and what is needed will vary from case to case.

Examples of students studying at VU based on the covenant are not yet available

Examples of students studying at VU based on the covenant are not yet available. One undocumented student who had previously applied to the VU and then was told no, has since received valid residency papers. As a result, she was able to start a law degree (which is now paid for by the state) a few years ago.

Going to the UvA after all

Of another student who is in the asylum procedure and wanted to study pharmaceutical sciences this year, the VU could not give a definite answer until the last moment whether she could start at the legal tuition rate. She is now finally starting studies at UvA thanks to financial help from UAF and an external fund.

Initially there will be funding for one to three students per year

VU is still in the process of shaping the implementation of the covenant into procedural rules. Initially, there will be money for one to three students per year. The City of Amsterdam also has plans to arrange a form of study financing for undocumented students.

In the United States over the past 15 years, undocumented youth have successfully worked to gain more rights, including the right to study and receive scholarships. Fiorito earned his doctorate in 2020 with research on this youth movement called The Dreamers. Also in the Netherlands, DreamersNL is pushing for more rights for undocumented youth.




This article previously appeared in AdValvas (Sept. 5, 2022).