Jan 28 2021

Economic Migration Policy Updates in Flanders

Belgium

At a Glance

  • Foreign workers in Flanders will see several improvements come into force on March 1, 2021, including a new flexible immigration route for short-term work; clarifications about frontier worker permits; and new work visa exemptions, among other changes. 
  • Many of these changes aim to simplify administrative formalities involved in the immigration process and improve labor mobility for foreign nationals in the Flanders region.
  • Several restrictions will also apply, including a new requirement for employers to notify authorities of more work-related changes; and new restrictions for in-country applications; and limitations for the duration of the validity of posted workers’ work authorization.

The situation

The Flemish government has implemented several improvements and restrictions to its economic migration policy, which will come into force on March 1, 2021.

A closer look

IMPROVEMENTS AND STREAMLINED POLICIES

New rule

Current rule

Impact

New flexible immigration route for short-term work. A foreign worker residing abroad who commutes to Flanders for work based on a passport or a Schengen visa C will be able to obtain a Work Permit B, which will be valid for 90 days in a 180-day period.

The current rule in the Flemish region only allows the issuance of work permits for up to 90 days. If a foreign national needs to enter Belgium for work several times during a period that exceeds 90 days for stays not exceeding 90 days in a 180-day period, they must apply for multiple Work Permits B. 

The new immigration route will create a solution for foreign nationals who frequently need to work in Flanders while simultaneously performing work duties abroad. Such travelers will only need to apply for a Work Permit B once instead of applying multiple times.

Clarification of the frontier worker permit. Employees residing in a country neighboring Belgium are now expressly eligible for a work permit to cover their work in the Flanders region.

Frontier workers are not expressly regulated in legislation.

The clarification makes a clearer distinction between the category of the frontier worker and the foreign non-resident worker coming to work in Belgium for up to 90 days in a 180-day period (see above).

Labor market test clarification. A labor market test will be presumed fulfilled for a permit renewal application for employment with the same employer for the same position.

The current legislation leaves room for discretion by the authorities to evaluate the foreign national’s eligibility for the work authorization by conducting additional labor market testing.

The clarification provides the employer with legal certainty as to whether a labor market test applies to a renewal application.

New work visa exemptions. The following groups of foreign nationals will become eligible for a work visa exemption:

  • researchers working with a recognized Belgian research institution for up to 90 days in a six-month period;
  • foreign workers conducting a training at the Belgian location of a multinational group to which their employer belongs for up to three months;
  • foreign nationals posted to Flanders by a temporary work agency established in another EU Member State; and
  • foreign highly-skilled workers who perform additional activities in Flanders as international teacher.

These work visa exemptions do not currently exist, making it necessary for these foreign nationals to obtain a work visa for such trips.

The new visa exemptions will reduce the administrative burden and cost associated with entering Flanders for eligible activities.

Business travel provisions for UK nationals. The Flemish government has confirmed that it accepts the direct application of the provisions for short-term business travelers incorporated in the Trade & Cooperation Agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom. 

The current Flemish legislation is more restrictive regarding the activities and duration of activities in which work-permit exempt business visitors can engage.

UK nationals will be able to engage in a more extensive range of activities without requiring a work permit for visits up to 90 days in a 180-day period.

 

RESTRICTIONS

New Rule

Current Rule

Impact

Notifications. Employers will need to notify the Flemish Regional Employment Ministry of any significant change in employment conditions during the validity of the work authorization, including for delayed start dates.

The current rules limit the notification requirement solely to the period of actual employment in Belgium, regardless of the validity period of the authorization. 

This new notification requirement will increase the administrative burden for employers, who must now track more events during the employee’s assignment.

Work visa restriction. Work visas will only be issued if the employer or the client is established in Flanders, unless the foreign national is subject to Belgian social security.

Currently, there is no requirement to have a sponsoring entity in the Flemish region. 

Foreign employers will no longer be able to obtain a work visa for temporary assignments to the Flemish region without a local sponsoring entity (e.g., business visits that are not work permit exempt).

In-country application restrictions. The Flemish legislation will be aligned with the applicable federal legislation. In-country change of status from dependent to employee will only be possible for EU Blue Card applications. Applications for any other employee status will be prohibited and will require the foreign national to apply from abroad. 

In-country change of residence status by family members has been restricted since July 2020. The Flemish rules refer to the applicable federal legislation, eliminating any ambiguity.

Foreign nationals residing in Belgium based on a dependent residence status can only apply for in-country change of status to employee status if they qualify for the EU Blue Card. An application for any other status requires the foreign national to leave Belgium and apply from abroad. 

Posted worker allowable stay. The duration of the validity of posted workers’ work authorization will be limited to the duration of the underlying social security certificate or ruling.

The current legislation does not mention this rule. Authorities generally consider the dates reflected in the assignment letter to determine the validity of the work authorization.

Employers should ensure that the period covered under the social certificate of coverage is consistent with the dates mentioned in the assignment letter.

 

Background

Many of these changes were implemented to simplify administrative formalities involved in the immigration process and improve labor mobility in the Flanders region for foreign nationals.  Fragomen has advocated for many of these changes since the implementation of the Single Permit in January 2019.

Looking ahead

Aside from the implementation of the above immigration policies by the Flemish government, several other important changes are anticipated that will impact Belgium’s immigration landscape. Among the expected changes is the final implementation of the EU Intracompany Transferee Directive, the launch of the Single Electronic Platform, and the revision of immigration policies on regional and federal levels.  Fragomen will monitor developments and provide updates when available.

This alert is for informational purposes only. If you have any questions, please contact the global immigration professional with whom you work at Fragomen or send an email to [email protected].