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Would-be immigrants into the Netherlands are to face an exam testing their knowledge of everything from Dutch language and history to its laws on topless sunbathing before they can take up residence.

A new inburgerings examen, or integration exam, has been unveiled as part of the crackdown against immigration after last year's murder of the controversial film-maker Theo van Gogh, who was an outspoken critic of Islam. That assassination, which shocked the Dutch nation, has stoked up a vigorous debate on how to assimilate the country's ethnic minorities.

The exam plan, which still needs parliamentary approval, has been criticised as a knee-jerk reaction that will create one of the highest entry barriers to immigrants in the Western world.

Initially the test will be required of foreigners applying for an immigration visa from outside the Netherlands but Rita Verdonk, the Dutch Immigration Minister, said she plans to extend examinations to people already living in the country.

This means some 755,000 people already in Holland could eventually be required to prove their knowledge of Dutch history and language, or risk a fine and possibly the loss of residency rights.

Those who want to come to the Netherlands will have to take the exam in their home country before being granted a visa, unless they come from countries exempted from the law, which include other EU states and the US.

Ms Verdonk's ministry estimates that up to 350 hours of study will be needed to pass the test, which will be taken via telephone on a speech-controlled computer system. Those sitting the exam will pay a fee of about 350 (240), and can prepare for it by studying an "integration pack", which will cost 45.

A video accompanying it, designed to give an insight into life and social mores in the Netherlands, includes images of topless women sunbathing and of a gay marriage.

Available in 13 languages, it describes the political institutions of the Netherlands and chronicles the country's history, highlighting important political and cultural figures from William of Orange to Anne Frank.

The murders of Mr Van Gogh, in November last year, and that of the right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn, in 2002, have rocked Dutch society and sparked a re-examination of its traditionally liberal and tolerant outlook. Mr Fortuyn, the populist anti-immigration MP, who was murdered by an animal rights campaigner, was recently voted the greatest-ever Dutchman. Mr Van Gogh, a descendant of the painter Vincent, was a controversial figure for his film Submission, which denounced the oppression of women under Islam. His final film, 06/05, released posthumously, was inspired by the killing of Mr Fortuyn.

Ms Verdonk said: "As integration into Dutch society is a long-term process it is important newcomers, before arrival , have a command of the Dutch language at a basic level and have developed an understanding of the society into which they are coming."

The government estimates that 14,000 people will apply to take the test each year.

Dutch version:

Buitenlanders moeten blokken voor toelating
Buitenlanders die in hun eigen land het toekomstige Nederlandse inburgeringsexamen succesvol willen afleggen, hebben 250 tot 300 uur zelfstudie nodig. Dat schat het ministerie van Justitie, dat de inburgeringstoets gisteren presenteerde.

De overheid stelt geen cursusmateriaal beschikbaar, maar wel een oefenpakket met een documentaire over Nederland op video en drie oefentoetsen. Dat pakket gaat ongeveer 45 euro kosten. Het examen bij de Nederlandse ambassade kost 350 euro per keer.

Het gaat om kennis van de Nederlandse taal en de samenleving. Slagen voor het examen wordt een voorwaarde voor het verkrijgen van een machtiging tot voorlopig verblijf. Ook analfabeten moeten volgens het ministerie in staat zijn om de toets met goed gevolg af te leggen.

De norm voor de beoordeling van de taalvaardigheid is gebaseerd op 1200 proefpersonen uit diverse delen van Nederland en met het Nederlands of een andere taal als moedertaal. De norm is opgeslagen in de computer waarnaar de kandidaat moet bellen om het examen te doen. De computer beoordeelt de prestatie van de kandidaat-Nederlanders.

Kandidaten kunnen geen bezwaar maken tegen de uitslag van het examen, wel tegen de omstandigheden waaronder het heeft plaatsgevonden. De ambassades zullen ongeveer twintig mensen moeten aannemen om het extra werk te doen dat met de examens gemoeid is. Het ministerie van Justitie, waar integratie onder valt, verwacht dat ongeveer 14.000 migranten per jaar een examen willen afleggen. Het zal vooral gaan om gezinsmigranten uit Turkije, Marokko en Suriname.

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