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Investigation: Netherlands Profiling Visa Applicants with Secret, Potentially Illegal Algorithm

An investigation by Lighthouse Reports and the NRC found that the Netherlands is profiling visa applicants based on their ethnicity using a secret and perhaps illegal algorithm

Investigation: Netherlands Profiling Visa Applicants with Secret, Potentially Illegal Algorithm

According to the inquiry, despite the fact that the Netherlands prides itself on computerised decision-making to decrease bias in visa issuance, the government employs an algorithmic risk assessment system that discriminates against applicants.

A report commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2022 indicated that the agency's internal culture was rife with structural racism, and in response, the country's foreign minister, Wopke Hoekstra, vowed reform at the time.

Despite this guarantee, freshly released papers obtained by Lighthouse Reports and NRC reveal that officials were warning about a secretive algorithm that racially characterises all visa applications at the time.

"They show the agency's own data protection officer — the person in charge of ensuring the agency's data use is legal — warning of potential ethnic discrimination." Despite these warnings, the ministry has continued to use the technology," according to Lighthouse Reports' statement.

According to the same source, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been employing a profiling system to determine the risk of applicants asking for a short-stay visa to enter the Netherlands and other Schengen Area member states since 2015.

The inquiry also discovered that the Ministry's algorithm has since subsequently profiled millions of visa applications using criteria such as gender, nationality, and age. This implies that applicants who are rated "high risk" are immediately routed to a so-called "intensive track" that requires delays and thorough inquiry.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs prevents family members of Dutch citizens with a migration background from obtaining a visa for short stays in a variety of ways," Kati Piri, a Dutch Member of Parliament, said.

Piri further stated that, despite the Ministry's claims of system efficiency, it is extremely difficult to obtain a visa from countries such as Suriname and Morocco, implying that the officials are discriminating against applicants based on their race.

Currently, all nationals of third-country nations that have not concluded a visa liberalisation agreement must apply for and acquire a visa in order to enter the Netherlands.

All applicants must submit a completed Dutch visa application form, two passport photos, their valid passport, copies of previous visas, proof of having purchased travel health insurance for the Netherlands, a roundtrip flight itinerary, proof of accommodation, and proof of sufficient financial means when applying for a Netherlands Schengen visa.



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