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Belgium has kept a conservative position on the EU recommendations for border reopening over the past months. Additionally, travel from outside the EU was highly restricted. Despite a continued increase of COVID-19 infection in early October in Belgium and across Europe, several measures have been taken over the last weeks to gradually allow more travellers to enter Belgium from outside the EU.

Since 20 August 2020, the Belgian government has continued to seek further alignment with the EU recommendations and announced new guidelines that would formalise the broadening of the scope of workers considered highly skilled essential workers, and therefore, exempt from the travel ban. Updated guidelines, applicable from 11 September 2020, further make official solutions for both short- and long-term travellers (being less or more than 90 days in any 180-day period).

From 23 September 2020, Belgium has foreseen a removal of border restrictions and quarantine requirement for all travellers coming from so-called “White Listed” countries. Travellers coming from these “safe” countries are permitted to travel to Belgium regardless of the travel purpose, provided they comply with standard visa and entry criteria.

These countries originate from the listing originally issued under the European Council Recommendation of June 30[1]. NOTE: this list subject to change. Check here for updates. Current “White Listed” countries are:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Japan
  • New Zealand
  • Rwanda
  • South Korea
  • Thailand
  • Uruguay

     

Finally, from 1 October 2020, quarantine periods have been reduced form 14 days to seven days, for those that are subject to a quarantine period upon arrival.

Long-term travellers from countries that are not “White Listed" 

All foreign nationals who qualify for a single permit, based on a work authorisation category exempt from labour market testing, are automatically included in the category of essential workers. These include specialised technicians and shortage occupations in the Flanders and Walloon regions of Belgium. All foreign nationals who have been issued an Annex 46 in the procedure toward obtaining a Single Permit will qualify for the VISA D and entry into Belgium. The same continues to apply to EU Blue Card applicants.

Short-term travel from countries that are not “White Listed”

Belgium has also included an important exception on the travel ban for short-term travellers who can demonstrate the essential nature of their activities in Belgium. In order to meet these criteria, travellers must obtain an “Attestation of Essential Travel” (a template is available on the website of the Immigration Office) from the relevant Diplomatic Post. To obtain the attestation, you must submit the documents that prove the essential nature of the activities, such as a work permit B, documents supporting the work authorisation exemption and a statement from your employer. We recommend that all travellers obtain this attestation to avoid queries by airline companies or Belgian border inspection services.

Finally, it is also important to mention that self-employed workers will no longer be subject to the travel ban if they can carry the relevant VISA D and/or “Attestation of Essential Travel.”

It remains important that all travellers into Belgium complete the Public Health Passenger Locator Form (PLF), with an included self-assessment test, 48 hours prior to arriving in Belgium. Proof that the PLF has been completed will need to be given to the airline when boarding the plane. Upon arrival in Belgium, travellers with a high score on the self-assessment test are required to quarantine for seven days and get a test on the fifth day. Note that the quarantine can only be lifted to fulfil the essential purpose of the trip and to the extent that this activity cannot be postponed to a later date.

After months of highly restricted access options to Belgium, these adjusted guidelines bring a wind of change and enable companies to reconsider the remobilisation of foreign national staff, which is crucial for business recovery and economic growth. 

Opportunities for workforce planning – what companies should do:

  1. Keep up to date with government measures: These measures are constantly changing and windows of opportunity for enhanced mobility can appear. It is crucial to develop a broad awareness of the restrictions, as well as a deep understanding of business solutions.
  1. Develop creative remobilisation strategies: As there are variances among EU countries with respect to border openings, employers can use the more “relaxed” countries, such as Belgium, as entry points into the EU.
  1. Explore EU-wide permits/facilitated immigration routes: European legislation and European Court of Justice case law provide facilitated routes for non-EU nationals to work in more than one EU country. This enables companies to explore the full potential of their EU-based workforce. However, it remains challenging to bring employees from outside the EU.
  1. It is essential to remain compliant: The work and travel patterns of a company’s employees may adjust substantially to the current circumstances: working from home and/or client site, furlough schemes and more frequent business travel inside the EU. Employers must remain vigilant to the employment, immigration and social security legislation requirements with which they may have to comply in this new landscape.

     

For further information and advice on navigating the immigration landscape and impacts of COVID-19, please contact Jo Antoons or Alexander De Nys.

This blog was published on 6 October 2020, and due to the circumstances, there are frequent changes. To keep current with all the latest updates on global immigration, please visit our COVID-19 microsite, subscribe to our alerts and follow us on LinkedIn


[1] COUNCIL RECOMMENDATION (EU) 2020/912 of 30 June 2020 on the temporary restriction on non-essential travel into the EU and the possible lifting of such restriction