by Rimma Abadjan, Attorney & Associate, and Jo Antoons, Attorney & Managing Partner at Fragomen
Since January 2019, Belgium’s economic migration model has experienced a significant upheaval. A legal framework that was relatively stable for the past 20 years has been subject to major procedural and policy changes. As a result, companies have been confronted with increasingly diverse regional policies and practical issues caused by the implementation of the new rules. AmCham Belgium has dedicated several articles to the subject of the introduction of the Single Permit and the subsequent challenges caused by the single application procedure. This article focuses on the policy changes that took place in 2019 in the three Belgian regions, partially driven by the implementation of European legislation.
In January 2019, Belgium implemented the Single Permit – a combined work and residence authorization document – along with the single application procedure. In addition to these procedural changes, Flanders was the first region to introduce policy changes, followed by the Walloon Region which amended their policies in June. The Brussels-Capital Region also made some adjustments in June.
Common to all regions is the introduction of a number of EU schemes for specific categories of foreign workers, such as seasonal workers, Intra-Corporate Transferees (ICT), researchers, trainees and volunteers.
Given the Belgian federal structure, close cooperation between regional and federal authorities is required for the implementation of the EU directives, which has led to delays. As a result of the latest legislative changes, the Seasonal Workers Directive has been implemented, and the EU Blue Card for highly qualified workers has been aligned with the single application scheme, resulting in diverging salary thresholds per region, as defined by regional policies. Those policies merit a closer look.
Flanders has introduced a number of interesting features, such as a lower salary threshold for locally hired young workers under the age of 30, an option which does not exist in other regions. In general, the salary thresholds in the regions are relatively close to one another for highly skilled workers, but differ significantly for EU Blue Card holders: €50,242 in Flanders, €52,978 in the Brussels-Capital Region and €53,971 in Wallonia, applicable as of September 2019. The EU Blue Card scheme, available only for local hires, is now also fully aligned with a single application procedure, which results in identical document requirements at the submission stage and processing times that are longer compared to the former procedure.
All regions have currently set the maximum validity period for work authorizations at three years. However, in the Brussels and Walloon Regions, this authorization is subject to a yearly audit. Companies must provide corporate documentation to prove that the criteria for employment of a foreign worker has been met throughout the year.
Both Flanders and Wallonia have more flexible rules for granting unlimited access to their labor markets after four years of employment in Belgium. This period can be reduced in the Walloon Region to two years under certain conditions, such as due to the citizenship of the foreign worker. Both regions also foresee the option to apply for a work authorization in-country. Brussels is yet to adopt new policies but, when this happens, they are expected to be in line with what has been adopted in the other regions.
As indicated above, two important EU directives are yet to be implemented in Belgium: the ICT Directive and the Researchers Directive. Both schemes introduce interesting intra-EU mobility features. Belgium has been referred to the EU Court of Justice for failing to transpose the ICT Directive; the deadline was November 29, 2016, and Belgium is the last country in the EU where implementation is still due. We hope that the required federal legislation will be rapidly published allowing this scheme to come into full effect. As stipulated above, the regional legislative texts allowing the implementation are ready. In the meantime, companies can use short-term mobility rights for their ICT permit holders in other EU Member States that allow them to perform activities in Belgium for up to 90 days.
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