IND study: deciding on asylum applications has become more complex

Last update: 14 February 2024

In the past twelve years it has become more complex for staff members of the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) to take asylum decisions. This is partly due to changing frameworks under international and Dutch legislation, and because of changes in policy and its implementation, and because of court judgments. More tasks have been added and increasingly more information has to be taken into consideration whereas, on average, staff members are less experienced than twelve years ago.

This emerges from research by the IND over the years 2010 to 2022, inclusive. The researchers conducted interviews with IND staff members and cooperation partners, and combined this with data and other analyses.

Complexity takes time

“Asylum staff members notice the increased complexity because their work takes more time and is substantively more complicated”, says Titia Maasland, one of the researchers. “Interviews are getting longer and longer and asylum decisions increasingly more comprehensive and more complicated. Because of this more knowledge and experience is needed to take a decision, and it takes more time to process an application.”

Comprehensive credibility assessment

An example from the report deals with changes in the assessment of the credibility of asylum seekers’ accounts of their flights. In the past the IND assessed the credibility of an account of a flight in its entirety. “Now decision-making staff members assess the credibility of each part of the account separately and then a total assessment follows. This manner of working results in better substantiation of the decision. But it also takes more time to ask questions about and assess all parts, certainly where personal motivations, feelings and thoughts are concerned, as in accounts of conversion and sexual orientation.  

Complicated web of rules and court judgments

The frameworks that determine how the IND takes an asylum decision consist of a complex web of legislation, regulations, policy and implementation instructions on different levels (international, EU, the Netherlands, IND). If something changes on one of those levels this usually has consequences for the other levels, as the researchers state. Court judgments for example, are supposed to give further substance to EU regulations. These court decisions result in constantly new implementation frameworks. Such changes make the work more complex. 

Assessing more

It emerges from the study that the interview and decision-making staff members have to take more steps to arrive at an asylum decision. Part of this is additional administrative work, but also: more identification, for example if there are risks to national security, or if human trafficking or fraud are involved. And if there is no right to asylum, they must assess further whether there are other possibilities for residence. 

Less experienced staff members 

While the work has become more complicated, the average experience level of IND staff members has decreased. This is mainly because many new staff members have been engaged in a short time. In addition, staff members feel increasing less opportunity to take decisions independently. The feeling of external pressure also plays a role in this. Politicians, the judiciary and the media are paying a lot of attention to the decisions that the IND takes.

Dealing better with complexity and more room from others

Deputy Director General Jan Willem Schaper is pleased with the study: “The fact that our work is becoming more complex is not unique to the IND. You see that in the whole central government. The study makes us better able to get more of a grip on this almost autonomous development towards more complexity in the performance of work. Where work can be done more easily or with fewer actions, we should do it that way. We are already working on this and will continue doing so. We see to it, for example that the system is adjusted to enable policy assistants to click faster through the digital reporting on a case.” 

Schaper does not expect the complexity to become less more quickly now. “It also emerges from the study that it cannot always be resolved. And that a more complex and more comprehensive consideration sometimes also results in better considered decisions. We are not always able to reduce complexity, but there are possibilities to deal with it better. The IND can organise processes better and guide and support staff members well. Other parties precisely need to give the IND more opportunity to organise the performance of its work optimally itself.” 

“That does not mean that everything will be better next year. Both technical and organisational improvements take time. Inexperienced staff members for example ask for more detailed working instructions, whereas staff members with longer working instructions are actually less trained in forming their own judgements. We have to break through that circle. But that will not be resolved next year, because you do not gain experience in a few weeks but rather in a few years.”

Different opinions

Not all interviewees thought that complexity has increased on all points. Several parties outside the IND think that only certain parts of the work are more complex, or that it is not more complex across the board. They mention elements that have reduced such complexity, such as the introduction of a separate process for applicants from safe countries and combining the application and initial interviews. 

The researchers have weighed the developments that make things less complex against the increased complexity. They concluded from this that, in general, the work has become more complex. 

See the visual summary of the study (Only in Dutch)
Read the complete study: complexity of taking asylum decisions (Only in Dutch)