Access to Higher Education for Undocumented Youth: The ‘Amsterdam Covenant’ Explained

On March 10, 2022, the City of Amsterdam and the five Amsterdam universities and colleges signed a covenant on the access of young undocumented migrants to higher education. What problem should this covenant solve and how will it do so?

By Jordan Dez and Tara Fiorito

No higher education after 18
Undocumented migrants are people with the nationality of a non-EU member state who are in the Netherlands without valid residence status. Children of undocumented migrants (who are even undocumented) have access to education in the Netherlands until the age of 18. The law states that “admission to school is not dependent on lawful residence” (Art. 40 of the Primary Education Act (WPO). Undocumented pupils under 18 can be enrolled in secondary education (art. 27 of the Secondary Education Act (WVO)). For higher education, if an undocumented student begins a study before the age of 18 or during lawful residence (for example, due to a pending (asylum) procedure), he/she may continue and complete the study even after reaching the age of 18 (Art. 7.32 of the Higher Education and Scientific Research Act (WHW) and Art. 8.1 of the Education and Vocational Training Act (MBO)). In such a case, this study is funded by the state.

However, this means that undocumented migrants cannot begin higher education after the age of 18. After all, undocumented students are rarely younger than 18 on the first day of their studies. In many cases, these are young people who grew up in the Netherlands; some of them were even born here. These are therefore so-called “rooted” undocumented students in the Netherlands.

The Amsterdam Covenant
The City of Amsterdam, in cooperation with researchers and administrators from various HBO and WO institutions, has sought solutions to the current situation by means of the “Covenant Pilot: Access to Higher Education for Undocumented Amsterdam Youth” (hereinafter: the Covenant). The Covenant is not a new law or rule, but an agreement, a contract. This agreement aims to help undocumented eighteen-year-olds obtain study permits within the existing migration and education rules. The Covenant is essentially an agreement between the municipality and higher education institutions in Amsterdam to help students, who have completed secondary education in the Netherlands, gain access to higher education through support in obtaining a study residence permit or offering contract education, lower tuition fees and an alternative form of study financing.

The Covenant is a pilot; the parties are still working out the details of implementation. The implementation and experiences of the pilot will be evaluated every year and improvements will be made where necessary. According to the terms of the agreement, the Covenant will automatically renew at the end of its term (March 2024) unless either party files written complaints about renewal.

The Covenant applies to undocumented youth who have obtained their high school diploma in the Netherlands. The Covenant itself does not make explicit what is meant by “Amsterdam youth” (which appears in the title of the Covenant), because the delineation of the target group refers specifically to the Dutch high school diploma. In addition, students must meet the normal requirements for academic admission to their respective study programs. Moreover, they must be younger than 30 years of age, as this is the age limit used by DUO (Dienst Uitvoering Onderwijs) to provide study financing.

Amsterdam’s Alderman for Social Affairs, Diversity and Democratization has stated in the press that the municipality expects five students to use the Covenant in the coming year. However, this should be interpreted not so much as a limitation, but rather as an estimate. Indeed, in his statement, the Councilor indicates that he hopes more students will take advantage of the Covenant.

Study residence permit and contract tuition
The Covenant provides two options for undocumented persons to study at an institution of higher education: through a study residence permit or contract education. With a study residence permit, or during any other form of lawful residence, a student can enroll at a college or university, follow the regular program of study and earn a degree. With contract education, undocumented students are not enrolled at the university or college, but do attend all of the lectures for a particular course of study. Moreover, in contract education, the undocumented student does not receive a diploma, but only a certificate. Both options involve “non-funded” education, meaning that the educational institution does not receive government funding for these students. For contract education students, there are still problems with internships and obtaining a search visa after their period of study because they do not have a work permit.

Each educational institution will have a contact person(s) for undocumented students who apply. The contact person will consider what options would work best for that student. The contact person will assess whether a residence permit for study is an option, and if not, whether contract education would work. According to the Covenant, undocumented students receive support from educational institutions and the municipality in applying for and obtaining a study residency permit (Covenant, 2.1a). Some of the students cannot meet the requirement to travel to their country of origin while waiting for the issuance of a visa (provisional residence permit or MVV) required to obtain a residence permit. According to reports in Het Parool, the municipality and the universities “are engaging in discussions about this with the IND, among others.” The IND has the discretion to waive the requirement to travel back to country of origin. For each individual case, the educational institution will weigh up whether or not to apply to the IND for an MVV exception and only apply for it when it is impracticable for the student in question to travel to the country of origin (Art. 3.71, paragraph 3, Aliens Decree 2000).

In addition, a number of financial measures are being taken that will make it easier for undocumented migrants to qualify for a residence permit to study. First, educational institutions pledge to make efforts to apply a lower tuition fee rate (Covenant, 2.1b). As students with the nationality of a country outside the European Union, they would have to pay the “institutional tuition fees set for the program” rate (which is also applied to international students). For an undergraduate program at the Free University, for example, this institutional fee ranges from 8,980 euros (for studies such as Law or Business Administration) to over 20,000 euros (Medicine and Dentistry) per year. For undocumented people, the educational institutions want to apply a “rate equal to the legally determined regular tuition rate,” which in most cases is 2,209 euros. In addition, the municipality is seeking an “alternative form of study financing that will allow these young people to meet the necessary requirements for a study permit” (Covenant 2.3a). All students under the study visa or contract education will receive individual counselling to support them during their studies.

Informing schools about educational opportunities for undocumented migrants
Through the Covenant, the municipality and educational institutions also undertake to inform secondary schools of the existence of the Covenant. Because of the difficulties in being admitted to HBO or WO, undocumented students have often chosen or been advised, to study in VMBO so that they can start MBO education before the age of 18 and at least get a diploma. Thus, the new program could affect secondary school advice in elementary schools.

MBO institutions are not currently parties to the Covenant. However, their affiliation is possible and a goal of the parties to the Covenant. Initiatives similar to the Covenant are already under development in other municipalities and/or educational institutions in the Netherlands. For example, undocumented students who want to enrol at a higher education institution in Rotterdam can get more information from Maarten Goezinnen of Stichting ROS, .

In conclusion
This collaboration between the municipality and educational institutions supports students in gaining access to migration status and educational opportunities, opportunities previously unattainable. Although the Covenant does not include all undocumented people in its commitments, the hope is that it offers a way forward for some. There is hope that new parties, such as secondary school institutions, will join.

Contact details for further information on enrollment at Amsterdam’s educational institutions:

Hogeschool van Amsterdam:, or register for an interview at the HvA here
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam: Anfaira Doest,
University of Amsterdam: Albert Goutbeek,
Inholland Amsterdam: Nathalie Broers,
Amsterdam School of the Arts: Laura Smit,

This article previously appeared on VerblijfBlog (7 September 2022).