Initially, Belgium kept a conservative position on the EU recommendations for border reopening and travel from outside the EU was highly restricted. Belgium only considered EU Blue Card Holders as essential highly skilled workers exempt from the travel ban.
'All foreign nationals who qualify for a single permit based on a work authorization category exempt from labour market testing are automatically included in the category of essential workers. '
Since 20 August 2020, the Belgian government continued to seek alignment with the EU recommendations and announced new guidelines that would formalise the broadening of the scope of workers considered as highly skilled essential workers exempt from the travel ban. Updated guidelines applicable as of 11 September, make official solutions for both short- and long-term travellers (being less or more than 90 days in any 180 day period).
Long-term travellers from “White Listed” countries
From 25 September onwards Belgium foresees in a removal of border restrictions and quarantine requirement for all travellers coming from so called ‘While Listed’ countries. Travellers coming from these countries are permitted to travel to Belgium regardless of the travel purpose, provided that they comply with standard visa and entry criteria. These countries originate from the listing originally issued under the Council Recommendation of June 30. Countries currently included in the list are: Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, Rwanda, South Korea, Thailand and Uruguay (list subject to change – check https://diplomatie.belgium.be/nl for a most updated version).
Long-term travellers from countries that are not “White Listed”
All foreign nationals who qualify for a single permit based on a work authorization category exempt from labour market testing are automatically included in the category of essential workers. This includes 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 towards obtaining a Single Permit will qualify for the VISA D (B34). Equally, the EU Blue Card applicants continue to qualify for the Visa D (B29).
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 character of their activities in Belgium.. In order to meet these criteria, travellers must obtain an “Attestation of Essential Travel” (template 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 statement(s) from the 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 complete the Public Health Passenger Locator Form (PLF) 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. Travellers will need to quarantine for 10 days upon arrival from a red zone and should only be tested if they present symptoms. Note that that the quarantine can only be lifted based upon the optional self-assessment or 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 allow 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 broad awareness of the restrictions, as well as a deep understanding of business solutions.
2. 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.
3. Explore EU-wide permits/facilitated immigration routes. European legislation and European Court of Justice case law provides facilitated routes for non-EU nationals to work in more than one EU country. This allows companies to explore the full potential of their EU-based workforce while it remains challenging to bring employees from outside the EU.
4. Make sure you remain compliant. The work and travel patterns of your 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.