Dutch nationality law
Dutch nationality law is based primarily on the principle of Jus sanguinis and is governed by the Kingdom Act on the Netherlands nationality (Dutch: Rijkswet op het Nederlanderschap). Thus citizenship is conferred primarily by birth to a Dutch parent, irrespective of place of birth. Children born in the Netherlands to two foreign parents do not acquire Dutch citizenship at birth, unless special criteria are met.
Despite the existence of four different countries in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, only one category of citizen is distinguished in Dutch nationality law (Nederlandse / Dutch).
The Kingdom Act on the Netherlands nationality was significantly amended with effect from 1 April 2003.
- 1 Acquisition of citizenship
- 2 Loss of Dutch citizenship
- 3 Visa free travel
- 4 Dual citizenship
- 5 Citizenship of the European Union
- 6 Former territories
- 7 Dutch citizenship statistics
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Acquisition of citizenship
By descent ("afstamming") or automatic acquisition of Dutch nationality ("van rechtswege")
A person born on or after 1 January 1985 to a Dutch father or mother is automatically a Dutch subject at birth. It is irrelevant where the child is born.
A child born to an unmarried Dutch father and a non-Dutch mother must be acknowledged by the Dutch father before birth, in order for the child to be a Dutch subject at birth. Before 1 April 2003, an acknowledgement could be given after birth. Since then children who were not acknowledged before birth may nonetheless acquire Dutch citizenship through the option procedure, or through obtaining proof of paternity from a court. In the last case, the child gets Dutch nationality retroactively since the child's birth.
From 1 January 1985 the Kingdom Act on the Netherlands nationality (Rijkswet op het Nederlanderschap 19 December 1984, Stb. 628) permits children of either a Dutch father or mother to receive Dutch nationality by descent. Prior to that date Dutch nationality law (Wet op het Nederlanderschap en het ingezetenenschap (commonly abbreviated as WNI, 12 December 1892, Stb. 268) did not permit children to obtain Dutch nationality through descent from a Dutch mother (through matrilineal descent) and a non-Dutch father. Netherlands nationality was only passed through patrilineal (father) descent. Only if the father was not known or acknowledged did a child born to a Dutch mother receive Dutch nationality prior to 1 January 1985.
Between 1 January 1985 and 31 December 1987 children born after 1 January 1964 but before 1 January 1985 of a Dutch mother and non-Dutch father and who had never been married could use the ‘option procedure’ to acquire Dutch nationality. This possibility was not widely known and many in this situation missed the temporary opportunity to register themselves or their children as Dutch subjects.
In 2004, a number of these children of Dutch mothers and non-Dutch fathers (so-called "latent Dutch" or "latente Nederlanders") began to organise themselves in the hope of persuading the Dutch government that Article 27 of Rijkswet op het Nederlanderschap condones the discrimination against women enshrined in the earlier Dutch Nationality Law (before its 1985 revision), and it should therefore be revoked. In 2005, several Dutch lawyers agreed to take on the case and formalised the group into “Stichting Ne(e)derlanderschap Ja!”. The legislative change was discussed by parliament in 2006, but then stalled when the government fell and the bill was withdrawn.
In December 2008, a new proposal was presented to the Dutch Lower House of Parliament, and in January 2010 Legislative bill 31.831 (R1873) passed a majority vote amending the Kingdom Act on the Netherlands nationality to allow the so-called 'latent Dutch' to opt to receive Dutch nationality, regardless of their current age and marital status, and without requirement to renounce their original nationality. In June 2010, the Dutch Upper House approved the legislation. It was signed into law in July 2010 by Minister of Justice Mr Hirsch Ballin and H.M. the Queen, and published in the official Gazette issued by the Dutch Government (Staatsblad van het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden), with effect 1 October 2010. Latent Dutch now have the opportunity to receive Dutch nationality by option. Many latent Dutch regard themselves as having been Dutch since birth. However, while latent Dutch are by definition descended from a Dutch mother, nationality granted through the option procedure is not retroactive to the date of their birth. Under the law, these individuals are not considered to be Dutch since birth (van rechtswege), but rather are legally ‘Dutch by option’ from the date that the requirements of the ‘option procedure’ are fulfilled.
The option procedure is a simpler and quicker way of acquiring Dutch citizenship compared to naturalisation. In effect, it is a form of simplified naturalisation.
In order to be eligible for the option procedure, it is necessary to hold a Dutch residence permit and to be any of the following:
- an adult who was born in the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao or Sint Maarten and who has lived in any of these places continuously since birth.
- a person born in the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao or Sint Maarten who has lived in any of these places for an uninterrupted period of at least three years and who has not acquired the citizenship of any other country (i.e., a stateless person).
- an adult who has been legally resident in the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao or Sint Maarten since he or she was four years old.
- an adult who used to be a Dutch subject and who has been legally resident in the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao or Sint Maarten for at least one year and whose residence is without any restriction as to length.
- someone who has been married to a Dutch subject for at least three years and who has been legally resident in the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao or Sint Maarten for an uninterrupted period of at least fifteen years.
- someone aged sixty-five years or over and who has been legally resident in the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao or Sint Maarten for an uninterrupted period of at least fifteen years.
- a minor who is acknowledged by a Dutch subject who has been cared for and brought up by this Dutch subject for an uninterrupted period of at least three years.
- a minor who, as a result of a Court decision or by law at the time of your birth, is under the joint custody of a non-Dutch parent and another person who is a Dutch subject and who, since the start of this custody, has been cared for and brought up by this Dutch subject for a period of at least three years during which the child has had his or her principal place of residence in the Netherlands.
Exception: Legislation 31.813 (R1873), inter alia, amends the Kingdom of the Netherlands' nationality law to allow latent Dutch to opt to receive Dutch nationality, effective 1 October 2010. The conditions of eligibility through the 'option procedure' differ somewhat from those described above. Eligibility criteria for Dutch nationality as a latent Dutch person are that the:
- applicant was born before 1 January 1985;
- mother was a Dutch national when the applicant was born;
- father was not a Dutch national when the applicant was born;
- applicant did not obtain Dutch nationality between 1 January 1985 and 31 December 1987 through the option procedure and then subsequently lose that Dutch nationality; and
- applicant has no criminal record.
All five conditions must be met. If one or more of the conditions are not met the person is ineligible for nationality by this particular means under the recent changes to the option procedure affecting the latent Dutch. Residency in the Netherlands is not an eligibility requirement for latent Dutch applicants.
Applicants for Dutch citizenship through the option procedure are not required by Dutch law to renounce any foreign citizenship they might hold. However, the laws pertaining to their other citizenship may disagree.
By place of birth
A child born in the Netherlands, the Dutch Antilles or Aruba to at least one resident foreign national parent is a Dutch subject if at least one of the parents was born in the Netherlands, the Dutch Antilles or Aruba to a resident foreign national parent.
A child found on Dutch territory (including ships and airplanes with Dutch nationality), whose parents are unknown, is considered Dutch by birth if within five years since being found it does not become apparent that the child had another citizenship by birth.
An application for Dutch citizenship by naturalisation must meet all the conditions below:
- Aged eighteen or over;
- Holder of a permanent resident permit or a valid residence permit with a non-temporary reason of stay (e.g., family formation or reunion gezinsvorming/gezinshereniging);
- Five years of continuous residence in the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao, or Sint Maarten with a valid residence permit prior to the application date. Residency under a temporary reason of stay (e.g., study) is also counted in those five years. There are a number of exceptions to this rule.
- Sufficiently integrated in Dutch society and are able to read, write, speak and understand Dutch. This must normally be proved by taking a naturalisation test. Successful completion of an eligible integration course is an alternative. The Staatsexamen Nederlands als Tweede Taal diplomas NT2-I or NT2-II give their holder exemption from taking the naturalisation test. There are lots of other exemptions, see the Decision naturalisation test (Besluit naturalisatietoets) art. 3.
- In the four years preceding the application, the applicant has not been given any custodial sentence, training order, community service order or high monetary penalty.
Since 1 March 2009, anyone who requests naturalization must take an oath promising adherence to the values of the Dutch state: "I swear (declare) that I respect the constitutional order of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, its freedoms and its rights, and I swear (promise) to faithfully fulfil the obligations due to my nationality. So help me God Almighty", or: "This is what I promise and declare." According to Art. 23.3. of the Kingdom Act on the Netherlands Nationality, some categories of people are excepted from declaring their allegiance, through a general administrative measure. According to Art. 60a.6. of the Decree regarding the Obtention and Loss of the Netherlands Nationality, persons with a physical or psychical handicap who are unable to state their allegiance are exempted from doing so.
Exemptions to the residence requirement
The five-year residence requirement may not apply where the applicant falls into any of the following categories:
- a person adopted after majority in the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao, or Sint Maarten by parents at least one of whom has Dutch nationality.
- married to or are the registered partner of a Dutch man or woman. If this is the case, the person can submit an application for naturalisation after three years of marriage or registered partnership and cohabitation. If the person has cohabited in the Netherlands with a Dutch man or woman (both partners unmarried) for an uninterrupted period of three years, an application may also be submitted. Note: this is true in respect to marriage, partnership or cohabitation if and only if in the last three years the applicant has continually lived together with the partner inside the Netherlands. In case of marriage, it does not matter where this happened (i.e., inside or outside Dutch territories are both acceptable for married couples). As a rule of thumb, for each passed year, more than six months per year must have been spent under the same roof with that partner. There is an extra clause, namely that the couple has to remain living under the same roof for as long as the request for naturalization is being researched.
- the five-year term is reduced to a three-year term if the applicant is stateless.
- the five-year term is reduced to a three-year term if the applicant as a minor is acknowledged or legitimised by a Dutch national and has been cared for and brought up by this Dutch national for a period of 3 years.
- the five-year term is reduced to a two-year term if the applicant has legally lived in the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao, or Sint Maarten for a period of ten years, the last two of which uninterruptedly.
- a former Dutch subject. In some cases the applicant will instead be able to use the option procedure.
Exemptions to the requirement to renounce foreign citizenship
An applicant for naturalisation does not have to give up his current nationality in the following cases:
- where the original nationality is automatically lost upon naturalisation as a Dutch subject
- the legislation of the applicant's country does not allow renunciation of nationality (for example, under Greek law)
- the person is married to or the registered partner of a Dutch national.
- recognised refugees
- born in the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao, or Sint Maarten, and still living there at the time of application.
- where the person has lived in the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao, or Sint Maarten for an uninterrupted period of five years or longer before age eighteen.
- where the applicant cannot be expected to contact the authorities in the country of which they are a national.
- where the applicant has "special and objectively assessable reasons" for not renouncing his existing nationality.
- where, in order to give up the current nationality, the applicant would have to fulfil military service obligations or pay for such military service instead of fulfilling it. This must be demonstrated in each case.
- where renunciation of the applicant's existing nationality would cause "serious financial losses" (for example, inheritance rights). This must be demonstrated.
- where, in order to give up the applicant's current nationality, the applicant must pay a large sum of money to the authorities in his or her country.
These exemptions do not hold for citizens or subjects of Austria, Denmark and Norway, since these countries (together with the Netherlands) signed and ratified without reservations and never denounced the Convention on the Reduction of Cases of Multiple Nationality and on Military Obligations in Cases of Multiple Nationality (see Chapter I, art. 1, paragraph 1).
This was also the case for Belgian subjects until 28 April 2008, since Belgium denounced Chapter 1 of this treaty on such date. In a similar way, this was also the case for Luxembourgian subjects until 10 July 2009.
Children aged under eighteen may be added to a parent's application for Dutch citizenship. Those aged sixteen and seventeen will only be naturalised if they give their active consent while those aged twelve through fifteen inclusive are given a chance to object.
Former Dutch subjects who hold permanent resident permits and have resided in the Kingdom of the Netherlands (Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao, or Sint Maarten) for at least one year may regain Dutch citizenship through the option procedure.
Where the person is not resident in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the person must have lost Dutch citizenship after reaching the age of majority and through the acquisition of another citizenship. In addition one of the following conditions must be satisfied:
- born in the country whose nationality was acquired and living there at the time of acquisition of the nationality of that country, or
- before turning eighteen, lived in the country whose nationality was acquired for an uninterrupted period of at least five years, or
- at the time of acquisition of the nationality of the other country, the person was married to someone who possessed that nationality.
These criteria are similar to the criteria for exemption from loss of Dutch citizenship in place since 1 April 2003. If a former Dutch national lost Dutch nationality prior to 31 March 2003 under one of the three conditions above, that individual may submit an application to regain Dutch nationality through option. The application opting for Dutch nationality may be submitted up to 31 March 2013 (i.e., ten years from the 2003 change in the law).
Loss of Dutch citizenship
Dutch subjects may lose their citizenship through long residence outside the Netherlands while having more than one nationality, or acquisition of a foreign nationality. In addition, in some cases it is possible to be deprived of Dutch citizenship.
By residence outside the Netherlands
The Dutch law has contained for many years provisions that removed Dutch citizenship from certain Dutch persons who held another nationality at birth and remained resident outside the Netherlands in adulthood.
Prior to 1985
Before 1 January 1985, Dutch subjects lost their nationality in cases where they were born outside the Kingdom of the Netherlands, lived for an uninterrupted period of ten years outside the Kingdom after reaching the age of majority (then twenty-one) and did not submit notification that they wished to retain their Dutch nationality before the period of ten years.
These provisions affected Dutch subjects born abroad before 1 January 1954.
From 1 January 1985 to 31 March 2003
Under the 1985 legislation, Dutch subjects born outside the Netherlands who also held the nationality of the country of their birth lost Dutch citizenship if they lived in the country of their birth for ten years after they turn 18 (and were still citizens or subjects of their country of birth).
Those who were issued a Dutch passport or proof of Dutch citizenship on or after 1 January 1990 are deemed never to have lost Dutch citizenship. This exemption was put in place on 1 February 2001.
Former subjects who were not issued a Dutch passport or proof of Dutch citizenship in 1990 or later were given a limited period of time to acquire Dutch citizenship by option, until 31 March 2005.
From 1 April 2003
Since 1 April 2003, following an amendment to the Netherlands Nationality Act of 1985, Dutch subjects with dual nationality will lose their Dutch citizenship if they hold a foreign citizenship and reside outside the Kingdom of the Netherlands or the European Union for ten years.
In the case of Dutch subjects who possessed dual nationality on 1 April 2003 and who were then resident outside the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the European Union, the ten years started on 1 April 2003.
The amendment lets Dutch subjects who hold foreign citizenship and reside abroad keep their citizenship by either having a principal residence in the Netherlands or another EU member state for at least a year or applying for a Dutch passport or proof of Dutch nationality before 1 April 2013, the end of the ten years. A new period of ten years starts on the day that the person is issued with a passport or proof of Dutch nationality.
By acquisition of another citizenship
From 1 April 2003, loss of Dutch citizenship upon naturalisation in another country is still automatic unless at least one of the following exemptions applies:
- the person is born in the country of the other nationality and has a principal residence there at the time of acquisition of that nationality.
- if before turning 18, the person has had a principal residence in the country of the other nationality for an uninterrupted period of five years;
- if the person is married to a living person who possesses the nationality that the former person wishes to acquire.
If a person already lost Dutch nationality under these three exceptions prior to 1 April 2003, the final date to regain Dutch nationality under these three exceptions was 1 April 2013. Since then, it is no longer to reacquire Dutch nationality by option under these three exceptions if the person had already lost Dutch nationality prior to 1 April 2003. The only way to regain Dutch nationality is by naturalization. These exemptions do not apply in the case of acquisition of Austrian, Norwegian or Danish citizenship. Before 28 April 2008, those exemptions did not apply to obtaining Belgian nationality. Before 10 July 2009, these exemptions did not apply to getting the Luxembourgian nationality. This is due to the provisions of the Convention on the Reduction of Cases of Multiple Nationality, to which which the Netherlands became party in 1985. 
Other exceptions also exist such as the one in which minors who naturalize independently from their parents will not lose their Dutch citizenship. That was particularly helpful prior to 1985, when the age of majority was 21.
The exemptions lead to internal problems in the case of acquisition of Japanese or South Korean citizenship since neither Japan nor South Korea allows its nationals to hold foreign citizenships in their adult years. (See Japanese and South Korean nationality laws.) Of course, they are strictly Japanese/South Korean internal affairs and have to be solved by Japanese/South Korean citizens themselves, according to the laws of their own country. They are not problems of the Dutch state, and all that the Dutch laws say in this respect is that such Dutch subjects with dual nationality are allowed to renounce to their Dutch nationality.
Dutch subjects are not allowed to renounce their nationality if they become stateless so this renunciation has to occur while they have dual nationality, which is illegal in Japan and South Korea. Therefore, acquiring Japanese or South Korean nationality cannot be done by exempted Dutch subjects without breaking the laws of such countries. Each sovereign state decides for itself who are its citizens, and other states are not allowed to bother with such internal affairs.
Dutch citizenship by naturalization may be withdrawn if procured by fraud or if the naturalized Dutch subject does not renounce a foreign citizenship as per the requirements for naturalization (if one did not have the right to be exempted from such requirement or if one did not claim one's right to such exemption before signing a paper wherein one agrees to renounce the original nationality). A similar requirement exists for citizens of Japan and South Korea (see above).
Dutch citizenship may also be revoked in the case of service in a foreign army at war with the Netherlands.
The possibility to reapply for lost Dutch nationality under those three exceptions expired on 31 March 2013.
By joining jihadist groups
On 29 August 2014, Dutch ministers, in their effort to discourage young Dutch Muslims from joining terrorist organisations involved in a war with the Netherlands or one of its allies, planned to increase the options of withdrawing Dutch citizenship from dual nationals. This will be extended to the people who train in terrorist camps or work in them as instructors.
Visa free travel
Visa requirements for Dutch citizens are administrative entry restrictions by the authorities of other states placed on citizens of the Netherlands. In 2014, Dutch citizens had visa-free or visa on arrival access to 172 countries and territories, ranking the Dutch passport 3rd in the world according to the Visa Restrictions Index.
Although Dutch law restricts dual citizenship, it is possible for Dutch subjects to legally hold dual citizenship in a number of circumstances, including:
- those who acquire another citizenship at the time of birth (for example, a child born to Dutch parents in the United States would hold both US and Dutch citizenship).
- persons who acquire Dutch citizenship through the option procedure (including former Dutch citizens resuming citizenship)
- persons who become naturalised Dutch subjects if they obtain an exemption from the requirement to renounce their foreign citizenship, such as those who are married to Dutch subjects.
- Dutch subjects who naturalise in another country who are exempted from the loss of nationality rule, such as those married to a citizen or subject of that country.
Dutch nationality law is an object of enduring dispute, dissension and debate, since the electoral campaign of Pim Fortuyn turned immigration into a hot issue in Dutch politics. Since the assassination of Pim Fortuyn, anti-immigration politicians like Geert Wilders and Rita Verdonk have opposed dual citizenship.
Citizenship of the European Union
Because the Netherlands forms part of the European Union, Dutch citizens are also citizens of the European Union and thus enjoy rights of free movement and have the right to vote in elections for the European Parliament.
Before independence, Dutch citizenship was held by many persons in Suriname and Indonesia. In general, those acquiring citizenship of these countries at independence have lost their Dutch citizenship, but a request for determination of citizenship status can be addressed to the Dutch authorities.
Dutch citizenship statistics
Figures from the Dutch government show that approximately 11,500 people were granted Dutch citizenship by naturalisation in the first six months of 2003. There were close to 20,000 applications. 
According to the country's statistics office , nearly 21,000 people were granted Dutch nationality through naturalisation in 2004 (13,000 adults and 8000 children at the same time). This is 4000 fewer than in 2003 and half the number in 2002.
- Article: 'Nee mevrouw, u bent te laat' by Karin Alfenaar, de Verdieping Trouw Nieuws, 13 May 2006
- mr. B. de Hart; mr. drs. H. de Voer, mr. C.A. Goudsmit (28 April 2006). "Latente Nederlanders: Discriminatie van kinderen van Nederlandse moeders in het nationaliteitsrecht" [Potentially Dutch: Discrimination of Children of Dutch Mothers in Nationality Law] (PDF). Nederlandse Juristenblad (in Dutch) (Den Haag: Kluwer) (17): 932–939. ISSN 0165-0483. Retrieved 4 November 2009. [dead link]
- Article: De latente Nederlanders. Radio Netherlands World Emission, by Pieter-Bas van Wiechen, 23 September 2009.
- Article: "Equal Rights for Latent Dutch citizens Expatica Netherlands, 2 July 2010.
- Latente Nederlanders wachten op hun paspoort. mr. C.A. Goudsmit.
- Article: De latente Nederlanders. Radio Netherlands World Emission, Pieter-Bas van Wiechen, 23 September 2009.
- Kamer voor paspoort latente Nederlanders Radio Nederland Wereldomroep.
- Einde aan het tijdperk van latente Nederlanders Radio Nederland Wereldomroep.
- Staatscourant, published 30 June 2010
- Hoe bepaal je of je een latente Nederlander bent? Radio Nederland Wereldomroep.
- Article: Saskia heeft Nederlandse moeder, maar moet land uit, AD Nieuws, 6 October 2009.
- Legislation 31.813 (R1873) amendments to the Kingdom Act on the Netherlands Nationality
- Article: Hoe Bepaal je je wwn latente Nederlander Bent? How do you determine whether you are Latent Dutch? Radio Nederland Wereldomroep (in Dutch)
- Staatscourant, published 30 June 2010, Sections 6.1.i through 6.1.o
- Article 3(3) of the Netherlands Nationality Act.
- Law on introducing the declaration of allegiance and for adapting the rule of obtaining the Netherlands nationality after recognition, 27 June 2008, Art. 1.H.2.
- Rijkswet op het Nederlanderschap Art. 23 onder 3.
- Besluit verkrijging en verlies Nederlanderschap Art. 60a onder 6.
- Exceptions Ind.nl.
- Dual nationality. Is this allowed? Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service.
- A peculiar case of "serious financial losses" is in the case where renunciation of the applicant's existing nationality would cost too much in respect to income. See the following footnote for explanations.
- This must be demonstrated with proof of income and proof of consulary fees to be paid in case of renunciation, specific for the applicant's own case or with general specifications of such consulary fees for every citizen or subject of the country in which the applicant is a national of. Note: As a rule of thumb, if that sum of money is larger than your income for two months, then you have a right to keep your nationality of origin. Loans do not count as income. A testimony of this process is shown at Commons:Image:RWN Exception 1 d.jpg. That document is a sworn Dutch translation of a proof of consulary fees from the head of the Consular Section of the Romanian Embassy in the Hague. Since the sum of 515 Euro was greater than his income for two months (excluding a study loan from IB Groep), the subject naturalized by the decision of Her Majesty the Queen was allowed to retain his Romanian nationality. Such exemption had to be explained in advance to the naturalization clerk of the municipality, who filled then the naturalization request papers accordingly.
- Acquiring a different nationality. Dutch Department of Foreign Affairs.
- List of declarations made with respect to treaty No. 043.
- http://eudo-citizenship.eu/NationalDB/docs/NL%20Netherlands%20Nationality%20Act%20as%20of%201%20January%201985%20(refworld,%20English).pdf Chapter 15
- Nederlandse nationaliteit, afstand doen. Haarlemmermeer municipality.
- Ook Beatrix heeft dubbele nationaliteit. Radio Nederland Wereldomroep.
- Dutch nationality law
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Dutch Nationality, Embassy of the Netherlands, Ottawa
- Obtaining Dutch Nationality, Dutch Immigration and Nationality Directorate
- Article: The steep and thorny way to Naturalisation Day, a testimony by Sueli Brodin in Crossroads
- Article: Who Gets to Be Dutch? By John Tyler, Radio Netherlands Worldwide New legislation makes it harder to become a Dutch citizen while keeping another passport. At the same time the bill allows so-called latent Dutch people to finally become fully Dutch.
- Article: Hoe bepaal je of je een latente Nederlander bent? Radio Nederland Wereldomroep How do you determine whether you are latent Dutch? (in Dutch)
- Expatica Dutch residence permit application procedures
- IND - Immigration and Naturalisation Information on whether or not you may renounce your nationality
- Wikispaces.com site Latente Nederlanders/Latent Dutch established by and for members of the latent Dutch 'community' to share information on the Dutch citizenship application process