Navigating the Dutch Asylum Process: A Step-by-Step Guide

Amsterdam, February 8, 2024. By: Sarah Cuiper 

Disclaimer: Welcome app prefers using the term ‘newcomer’ for people have fled to the Netherlands and want to stay here, however in this article sometimes other terms are used. These terms are important to show the different legal stages a newcomer goes through when applying for a BSN.

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Upon your initial arrival in the Netherlands, the multitude of numbers and documents being discussed may seem overwhelming, especially since they’re all unfamiliar to you. This article aims to provide you with an overview of your initial steps in the Netherlands and clarify the significance of a BSN. If you want to stay in The Netherlands, you need to get a BSN according to the Dutch Government. A person is granted asylum in The Netherlands if they are considered a refugee (someone who rightly fears persecution in his country).

BSN stands for burgerservicenummer/Burger Service Number. It is a unique personal identification number used for communication with the government or any entity dealing with the government, such as health care providers and tax authorities. The BSN is found on Dutch Passports, driver’s licenses, and identity cards. You receive a BSN when you register in the Basisregistratie Personen (BRP), which is a registry containing names and other personal information of all people living in the Netherlands. Having a BSN is essential and mandatory for various things such as applying for benefits, health insurance, opening a bank account, enrolling in education, allowances and searching for employment.

It is a personal number that should only be shared with organizations that require it. For example:

The companies that require a BSN, can be found here. In the list you will find organizations such as mentioned above, but also other foundations and companies that require the BSN. You do not need to provide your BSN to other organizations. 

Explanation of terms such as BSN

The application process for a BSN

When you first arrive in The Netherlands, you must go to Ter Apel, to the application center. Your request for asylum will be registered here by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND) and the Dutch police.

The IND will need the following information: name, date of birth, country of origin, which family members are traveling along with you, what language you speak and why you fled from your country.

After this, the IND will give you a letter with the date of application. This letter allows you to visit the police, where they will engage in a conversation with you regarding your personal details such as your name, date of birth, birthplace, presence of family members in the Netherlands, language proficiency, and the reasons behind your departure from your home country.

The police will get your fingerprints and picture. They register your information, fingerprints and picture in the national system called the BVV. BVV stands for Basisvoorziening Vreemdelingen, which translates to Basic Facility for Foreigners. In this system you will get a number called a V-nummer. Every person who applies for asylum will get a personal V-nummer. The number is on letters from the IND. And on the back of your W-document.

Talking in a language class

Documents and forms

The W-document is a card with your passport photo, personal information, and your V-nummer. Every newcomer applying for an asylum residence permit in Ter Apel receives a W-document. If your current residence permit is about to expire and you’re seeking a permanent residence permit, you’ll need to apply for a W-document yourself. At the police station, you’ll sign your asylum application, known as the M35-H form. Once you’ve signed this form provided by the IND, you can apply for asylum in the Netherlands. Remember, the IND will only begin processing your application after you’ve signed the form.

The police can also conduct a search of your clothing and luggage, and they may seize certain items or your phone for inspection. If they take something from you, they’ll give you a written confirmation. Keep this document safe because you can use it to retrieve your belongings a week later. Sometimes there might be a delay between your registration at the IND and your meeting with the police. If this happens, visit VluchtelingenWerk; they have a reception area where you can report that you still need to register with the police. VluchtelingenWerk will then inform the police on your behalf.

Sometimes there is not enough accommodation in Ter Apel. Therefore, during your registration process you may be taken to temporary accommodation nearby. As it stands now, you will stay here for a few weeks. When it’s your turn, you will be taken to Ter Apel or Budel to complete your registration process.

Explanation of terms such as BSN and V-number

Waiting time for the BSN

The registration in Ter Apel can take a long time. Keep in mind that it may take a while before the IND and the police register you. Both organizations are very busy and do not have enough staff to process the number of asylum applications, so the registration process can take a long time.

Asylum seekers generally receive a BSN after six months in the Netherlands, but due to delays some of them faced challenges in obtaining their BSN. The delays are caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the large numbers of asylum applications and the war in Ukraine. Click here for the latest developments and the current waiting time. On average the government states it takes about nine months until a year to complete the asylum procedure.

Because of these delays, it is not possible for these people to register in the BRP. There are five BRP centers from the IND, called ”BRP-streets/BRP-straten”, where people can register. When you can’t register in the BRP, you can’t receive a BSN. Click here for a short overview of the steps when applying for a BSN.

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Another reason for the delays in registration is because of the shortage of housing and shelter. Asylum seekers might get transferred from one shelter to another and it’s not always clear where they’re staying. Because of this, people miss their appointments at the BRP-street.

The municipality of Westerwolde oversees the BRP-streets, see more information on their website. Westerwolde is the municipality in which Ter Apel is located. In total there are five BRP-streets in The Netherlands; in Westerwolde, Cranendonck, Haarlemmermeer, Gilze Rijen and Arnhem. It is free to register at the BRP-street. You can’t make an appointment to register at the BRP-street yourself, the IND must do that for you. The appointment invitation will be sent to COA and your program coördinator will inform you.

The responsibility for processing these requests lies with the IND. Currently, the IND is prioritizing applications for individuals with a refugee status, also called status holders or permit holders, to facilitate their transition to regular housing. A newcomer that doesn’t have a refugee status yet, will be placed on a waiting list. So, the main reason why a lot of newcomers don’t receive a BSN is because of the waiting lists at the BRP -street.

However, in some cases you might be given priority:

  • You have a residence permit and you found a job
  • You have a residence permit and you are offered housing
  • You need a BSN because of medical reasons
  • You have a TWV (tewerkstellingsvergunning/work permit) and your identity is known by the IND

In the cases mentioned above you can have priority in the process for the BRP-street. Go to the information desk at the COA and apply for this procedure. Newcomers who are eligible for family reunification can also be given priority in the registration process at the BRP. 

In a letter (May 2023) from the Dutch state secretary Alexandra van Huffelen (Kingdom relations, local government and digital government) and state secretary Eric van der Burg (Justice and security) is pointed out where the problems in the BRP process lie and which steps are taken to solve the delays. The prioritization process mentioned above is one of them, but also the process optimization for which a national planning agency is used. The government says they will also explore if more municipalities can do the BRP-registration instead of the five municipalities mentioned earlier.   

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Rejected asylum application

Some newcomers can’t register in the BRP because:

  • They are Dublin claimants
  • They left their home country which is safe (a list of the safe countries can be found here
  • They already have right for protection from another EU state
  • Their identity is not established or confirmed

If your asylum application is denied, the IND will check if there is suitable housing for you in your home country. The Repatriation and Departure Service (DT&V) will investigate and help you prepare for departure. You must leave the country within 28 days.

This article was written with the help of a COA staff member who is an expert in this field and has been verified by the BRP Westerwolde.

Explanation of terms such as BSN, V-number or health insurance